New Emails: Benghazi Cover Story Continues to Unravel

By Helle Dale | November 5, 2015 | 11:26 AM EST

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Benghazi panel. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

A new lot of emails released by the State Department on Halloween were so newsworthy that not even the holiday could drown it out.

It turns out, three days after the Benghazi attack, on Sept. 14, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli specifically warned the State Department in an email not to promote the idea that an anti-Muslim YouTube video was the cause of the attack.

The embassy issued this warning for two reasons: one, it was not true. And two, by calling continued attention to the video, anti-American sentiment in Libya was inflamed, where the video had not been a factor to any significant extent.

“[O]ur view at Embassy Tripoli is that we must be cautious in our local messaging with regard to the inflammatory film trailer, adapting it to Libyan conditions,” wrote an embassy official whose name was redacted from the Sept. 14, 2012 email.

“[I]f we post messaging about the video specifically, we may draw unwanted attention to it,” the official said. “And it is becoming increasingly clear that the series of events in Benghazi was much more terrorist attack than a protest which escalated into violence.”

The core of the message comports with the primary revelation of the Oct. 22nd Benghazi hearing, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton acknowledged in email on the night of the attack to her daughter Chelsea (among others) that an ‘al-Qaeda-like” group had attacked the U.S. compound.

It turns out that the Obama administration had one narrative for the American public (blaming the video), while internally spreading a much different narrative.

In this light, it is worth recalling how many times members of the Obama administration promoted a narrative that was not only apparently a concoction, but also potentially a match set to a tinderbox of anti-American hatred.

September 12: Clinton and President Obama issue statements condemning both the video and the attacks.

September 13: Press Secretary Jay Carney condemns video and violence at a news conference.

September 14: The bodies of slain Americans return to Andrews Air Force Base. Obama again blames the YouTube video.

September 16: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appears on Sunday talk shows and says the attacks were provoked by the video, exclusively.

September 25: Obama appears at the United Nations, denouncing “a crude and disgusting video that sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

September 27: The “Innocence of Muslims” film-maker Mark Basseley Youseff is arrested and denied bail for a “probation violation.”

Why did the administration go to all this trouble? A memo, sent by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that one of the “goals” of Rice’s appearances was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not in a broader failure of policy.”

Yet, as noted by Pete Hoekstra, former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in his new book, “Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya,” the attack in Benghazi was “the culmination of a foreign policy on Islamic terrorism that was grounded in wishful thinking and self-delusion.”

With every revelation, this tragic policy failure is becoming ever clearer.

Helle C. Dale is the Heritage Foundation's senior fellow in public diplomacy. Her work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries, as well as more traditional diplomacy.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.

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