Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte put it best yesterday in a joint statement they issued in response to former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell’s testimony yesterday to the House Intelligence Committee:
“This looks an awful lot like misleading the Congress.”
It’s hard to come to any other conclusion after watching Morell squirm for three hours as he explained CIA’s drafting of talking points a week after the attacks on the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi. The final version of these talking points were used by Ambassador Susan Rice on September 16, 2012 to deny that the attacks were related to terrorism and to instead claim they were the result of a spontaneous demonstration in response to an anti-Muslim video.
This explanation was politically convenient six weeks ahead of the 2012 presidential election and helped President Obama defend his dubious campaign theme that because of his leadership, Osama bin Laden was dead and al Qaeda was on the run.
During the hearing, Morell denied altering the talking points for political reasons. He said he sided with CIA analysts who believed the attacks were in response to a demonstration and the anti-Muslim video even though the CIA Libya station chief told him there was no demonstration and that he believed the attacks were an act of terrorism.
Morell tried to convey that relying on career CIA analysts – even though they were thousands of miles away from the Benghazi attack – was a responsible decision that had nothing to do with politics.
This is nonsense. Having worked as a CIA analyst for 19 years, I can attest that the lower levels of the CIA analysis bureaucracy know exactly what their managers want. They know the line they need to take to get promoted and to earn bonuses. Moreover, the analysis side of the house is well known for its liberal political bias and for being gun-shy in drawing politically controversial conclusions since the 9/11 and Iraq WMD intelligence failures.
Maybe Morell didn’t alter the talking points for the White House because he didn’t have to – his analysts and managers knew what he and the White House expected. Regardless of who was responsible for drafting and altering the talking points, we now know Morell approved them even though he knew the senior CIA officer in Libya had a very different view. He also knew the memo he approved said exactly what the White House wanted to hear.
Morell made many other head-spinning statements, such as his claim that we can’t know the motivations of the attackers since we haven’t caught them yet. He said the events on September 11, 2012 were both a terrorist attack and a protest.
Morell also said he took out the word “Islamic” in a sentence that described the attackers as “Islamic extremists” because he did not want to fuel anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. This was a policy call and was politically convenient for the White House which has been extremely reluctant to use the terms “Islamic” or Islamist” in describing terrorists or terrorist attacks.
This was a bad day for the CIA since Morell’s testimony will further undermine the Agency’s reputation as a non-political and objective source of information on national security matters. Morell was right when he said the CIA probably should not have been involved in drafting unclassified talking points. If there was a compelling reason for the CIA to engage in such a task, CIA managers had a responsibility to be politically neutral and not ignore inconvenient facts like reports by the Libya Chief of Station.
- Cherry picking analytical theories: not standard practice at CIA (Secure Freedom Radio)