What happened today, April 2
Former CIA acting director Michael Morell testified before the House Intelligence Committee today, denying allegations of a cover-up related to the 2012 Benghazi attacks or that anyone one in the Obama administration deliberately misled Congress on what happened in Benghazi. Morell admitted it took analysts four days after Libyan authorities told them there were no protests on video in their possession to analyze it, something that he said came up in the CIA's review of its process. Morell also told committee members it wasn't possible to say exactly what motivated the Benghazi attackers, because none of them were caught.
Morell explained that he wasn't convinced by the chief of station's account largely because the station chief's account began only when he got there, after the attacks had started, and that it was also based on press reports. Other press reports, Morell pointed out, did mention protests.
Asked about Sunday talk show interviews with Susan Rice, then the national security advisor, in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Morell said they largely followed the talking points the intelligence community agreed on, but did not agree with her linking of spontaneous protests to the YouTube clip of Innocence of Muslims. That clip was blamed for protests in Libya and in other countries.
Several Democrats insisted the hearing was a partisan "smear" campaign and not responsible oversight. Ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in his opening remarks he's uncovered no "conspiracies" about Benghazi, only "conspiracy theories."
At The Daily Beast, national security correspondent Eli Lake writes that Morell's exact role in developing the Benghazi talking points, while major, isn't known. Lake explains that Morell is one of the "most celebrated members" of the U.S. intelligence community:
Morell has earned a reputation inside the intelligence community as an independent and respected analyst, twice serving as interim director of the CIA. He was George W. Bush's official briefer on the day of the 9-11 attacks. Obama appointed Morell on the panel to reform the NSA surveillance programs. In an interview last year with 60 Minutes, he became the first senior CIA official to say he did not think the harsh interrogations of senior al Qaeda leaders was consistent with American values.
Morell himself declined to discuss his testimony before Wednesday. But one of his allies who did speak to The Daily Beast said the open hearing would be an opportunity for the former deputy and acting CIA director to clear his name. "Michael Morell looks forward to testifying in open session and setting the record straight," said Bill Harlow, a former CIA spokesman and a long-time friend of Morrell who has helped him prepare for the hearing. I explained last year what difference the politically convenient but deceptive 2012 narrative about the Benghazi attacks flowing from spontaneous protests against a YouTube video still makes:
The Sunday after the Benghazi assault, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on the political talk-show circuit to push the narrative of a spontaneous protest. It's now been revealed that the talking points she relied on had been edited several times to excise all reference to any terrorist connection. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney deflected concern about that by pointing out that Republicans knew about the process. But that's not relevant. The issue is that the government decided to mislead the American people. Whether the revisions came from the CIA or the State Department, they sought to conceal facts from the public. And government officials didn't lean on any supposed national security concern for that deception, merely the understanding that what the American people were informed of is what they ought to know.
This "move along, nothing to see" attitude is hardly new to the Obama administration. But this president and his apologists have wrapped themselves in "the truth" in a way few of his predecessors have, even while acting in a relentlessly untransparent manner. Obama promised his would be "the most transparent administration in history," yet his administration has brought up more cases against leakers (six) than all his predecessors combined, a fact that came up in reporting on the government seizing two months' worth of phone records from the Associated Press.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.