UNITED NATIONS – The role U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and her staff may have played in the assembly of the Benghazi terror attack talking points – which suggested the attack was prompted by a Muslim mob upset over an obscure online video – is moving back under the microscope after a dump of documents by the Obama administration that appears to have made things foggier, not clearer.
It was Rice who went on all five Sunday talk shows after the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and blamed it on Muslim protesters.
The video story since has been thoroughly debunked, although the filmmaker remains jailed.
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Rice has maintained that she was simply repeating talking points given to her by the Obama administration when she appeared on a series of network shows to explain what had happened.
But an investigation by WND shortly after the White House released 100 pages of emails related to the Libya attack shows Rice and members of her personal staff played a central role in developing the talking points.
WND found that Rice's press secretary, U.S. United Nations Mission spokeswoman Erin Pelton, and Rice's deputy U.N. ambassador, Rosemary DiCarlo, both helped formulate the talking points.
While the White House promoted the email release as a gesture of transparency, a close examination showed the opposite. The identities of numerous administration officials were purged in countless emails. Both senders' and recipients' names were repeatedly redacted. And entire documents referred to in several emails were replaced by blank pages.
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More than 25 percent of the documents released by the White House had been redacted, leaving the reader with a critically incomplete picture of what transpired during the Benghazi attack and the days that followed.
Among unresolved issues is the disposition of U.S. forces in the immediate region who might have been called upon in an emergency.
CIA Director David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have differed on the issue of whether or not troops were available.
It's also unclear what security conditions existed at the U.S. compound prior to the attack.
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And what role did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Panetta play as the crisis unfolded? And what was President Barack Obama doing at the time?
Even after a formal State Department investigation, the chain of command in operation at the time remains unclear.
At the U.S. United Nations mission, only Ambassador DiCarlo's name is plainly revealed.
Mission spokeswoman Pelton's and Rice's involvement was only confirmed after a WND investigation.
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Both U.S. officials were contacted by email and telephone. The emails and phone calls were not returned.
Rice's press office directed questions to the White House, which also had no comment.
The transcripts released by the White House showed that Pelton was in direct contact with CIA, Defense Department, State Department and National Security Council officials in "refining" the talking points for Rice.
The "working group" spent more than two days developing what Rice would or would not say on the Sunday morning talk shows.
The alterations went far beyond the one minor edit that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney previously claimed had been made.
The controversial YouTube video was given little mention by the working group initially, though that approach later changed.
What remains unclear is the identity of the party or parties who first believed that the Benghazi attack was spontaneous and not planned.
That concern was repeated by former U.S. United Nations Ambassador John Bolton.
"One question that remains unanswered us where the story about the Mohammed YouTube video arose? The congressional committees need to pursue that inquiry," Bolton told WND.
In another development reported today, CNS News noted that while a senior adviser to Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, said Obama was kept "up to date" on the terror attack, officials have refused to give details or provide documentation.
Pfeiffer declined to answer questions from Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" about what the president was doing or where he was on that night.
The New York Time reported that the State Department plans by late summer to send dozens of additional diplomatic security agents to certain embassies and install millions of dollars in fire-survival gear and surveillance cameras.
The report said the price tag for the better security was at $1.4 billion for the "most urgent needs."
It was Obama who said Congress must step up and pay for the security needs.
The Christian Broadcasting Network reported Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration will do everything possible to protect U.S. diplomats serving overseas, vowing to spare no expense.
"The dangers of diplomacy are not unique to this moment in time: our diplomatic missions didn't become dangerous that night in Benghazi," Kerry told a group of State Department trainees.
"We are working to upgrade our capacities. We're bringing on more security personnel, we're enhancing our training, we're putting more Marines at our high threat diplomatic posts, and we're making sure that their first responsibility is protecting our people, not just classified materials," said Kerry.
As WND reported, Stevens was in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, the day he died in the terrorist attack, because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered him there.
That's according to the attorney representing Gregory Hicks, the former State Department deputy chief of mission and chargé d'affairs who was in Libya at the time of the attack.
Victoria Toensing, legal counsel to Hicks, told WND that Clinton had given Stevens direct instructions to prepare the CIA compound in Benghazi to be upgraded to the status of a U.S. diplomatic mission. Stevens, in complying with Clinton's wishes, was in Benghazi at the first opportunity, aware of the need to visit the site before the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2012.
"Stevens was in Benghazi because Clinton told him to go there," Toensing explained.
Hicks' attorney also charged that the Accountability Review Board, or ARB, headed by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, was a cover-up designed to contain blame for the Benghazi terror attack at a level below Clinton in the State Department.
The unclassified ARB final report on page 18 states: "Ambassador Stevens was scheduled to remain in Benghazi until September 14, and his visit was timed in part to fill the staffing gaps between TDY [Temporary Duty Assignment] principal officers as well as to open an American Corner at a local school and to reconnect with local contacts."
Hicks testified to the House oversight committee that in direct contrast to the ARB claim, the State Department in Washington was fully aware of the plans Stevens made to go to Benghazi, the reasons he was going there and his planned activity while there.
"The ARB unclassified final report was incomplete in that the reason for Stevens being in Benghazi was known to Hicks, but the ARB ignored the testimony Hicks gave on this point," Toensing further explained to WND.
Hicks elaborated on the point to the House oversight committee, saying that when he told the ARB the reason Stevens went to Benghazi, Pickering looked visibly upset and asked, "Does the 7th floor [where the office of Secretary of State Clinton is located] know about this?"
So far, there have been dozens of key questions about the attack that remain unanswered by administration officials:
- What did you know, and when did you know about the standoff occurring in Benghazi?
- Why did President Obama declare publicly in initial comments only hours following the Benghazi attack that it indeed was a terrorist attack but later in a CBS interview backtracked by saying that it was too early to determine whether it was a terrorist attack?
- Were Obama and Clinton informed at the time the attack was unfolding? If so, what orders did Clinton give to seek to secure the facility?
- Was Clinton in direct contact at any time with the Secretary of Defense to determine what Special Forces were available to lend assistance? Was she also in contact with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to ascertain whether he had any assets in the area to rush to the assistance of the beleaguered facility?
- If she had not been informed at the time of the attack, at what level in the Department of State were officials informed and what action, if any, was ordered and with whom in the Defense Department and at CIA were they in contact?
- Who were the State Department officials aware of the pre-911 security requests from Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other U.S. personnel in Libya?
- What was Stevens doing in Benghazi without his usual security detail, especially since he had written earlier to the State Department on the poor security at the facility, considering the already dangerous environment of Libya?
- Why were his repeated requests for security either ignored, or turned down?
- Since warnings are issued by the State Department on every anniversary of 9/11 to all posts to heighten security, why wasn't it done at Benghazi, especially since the ambassador was traveling to the facility on a mission known by the State Department and CIA?
- Why weren't U.S. forces directed to be sent in, in light of a statement by the U.S. commander for Africa, Gen. Carter Ham, that he had the capabilities and was ready to go but never directed to go. Why is that?
- Why was a U.S. Marine fast action team out of Rota, Spain, told to take off their uniforms before going in to rescue the ambassador and the other three Americans? Why did the military conclude that the military couldn't do anything? Why didn't the accountability board even look at that? Why did CIA have such a large detail at the safe house location?
- Why did Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy withdraw from Libya's capital a 16-member special operations forces detachment that was assisting with security, a decision which was made two weeks prior to the Benghazi attack?
- What was the rationale for Kennedy's decision in light of frequent appeals by Stevens for enhanced security, as he expressed increasing concern about the deteriorating security environment in Libya and the fact that the Libyan government itself was not in a position to provide adequate security at the U.S. embassy or consulate in Benghazi?
- Considering the increasing volatility in Benghazi and the fact that the consulate there was in an isolated position, why did the State Department and the CIA keep it open?
- There were reports that the two former SEALs – Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty – killed in attempting to protect the ambassador and the consulate were contractors for CIA and their main purpose was to work out of a safe house not far from the consulate, ostensibly to inventory various weapons, some of which separate reporting says were then transferred to the opposition forces in Syria. In light of this prospect, why wasn't more security in place to protect the few CIA contractors who were there?
- In such a high-risk security environment, why was security for the consulate provided by Libyans? Did they stick around to provide security for the consulate once the attack began?
- Since they may not have, there also are indications that some of those providing security at the consulate either tipped off the terrorists or somehow pinpointed where in the consulate to attack, as well as identify the location of the safe houses where U.S. personnel escaped once the attack began. What has the State Department investigation revealed as to collusion with the terrorists by local Libyans charged with providing security for the consulate?
- Why was the FBI barred for 24 days from going to the consulate to secure evidence when reporters were given ready access and had obtained sensitive information which was later turned over to U.S. authorities?
- We were told that four State Department officials involved in the decision-making process on security were removed or resigned. We now learn that isn't true. Why did the State Department lie about the status of those in State Department management responsible for this security debacle?
- In light of the Benghazi experience, has there been any effort by the Obama administration in close coordination with the Defense Department and CIA to revise operational procedures to ensure that quick-reaction armed resources are available much sooner in future instances of impending or actual attack on U.S. facilities abroad?
In September, WND broke the story that Stevens played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.
According to the 39-page report from 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.
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.
And WND reported in the immediate aftermath of the attack, Rice may have deliberately misled the public when she went on television news shows and called the facility that had been targeted a "consulate."