Intelligence Chair: Obama and Clinton ‘Gave Permission Slip to Al Qaeda’

Terence P. Jeffrey | September 24, 2012 | 5:39pm EDT
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House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in broadcasting a television ad in Pakistan apologizing for a privately produced video that criticized Islam, had given al Qaeda and other “bad actors” a “permission slip” to do bad things.

Rogers also said there was a “high degree of probability that it is an al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated group” that attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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After the Obama-Clinton ad was broadcast in Pakistan last week, Pakistani Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said on Saturday that he would personally pay $100,000 to anyone who could kill the maker of a video, Innocence of Muslims, that had inspired the apologetic Obama-Clinton ad.

“I think it was a horrible idea,” Rogers said of the Obama-Clinton ad. “It gave credibility, and then it gave a permission slip to al Qaeda, to Pakistani officials. You saw the minister come out and say he was offering $100,000 for the death of the person who produced the video. This is a minister of the government of Pakistan. It gave a permission slip because of this attention and credibility that was given to this video that should not have been given by our president and our secretary of state.

“And as you have seen, it hasn't been very effective,” Rogers told CNN’s Candy Crowley.

“I'm not sure who gave them the advice. I thought it was horrible advice,” said Rogers. “I think they have actually exacerbated the problem, and I think hopefully we shake ourselves out of this.

“This is a national security issue that we'll have to deal with, whomever wins in November,” said Rogers. “This is a big deal for the national security to the United States of America.”

Later in the interview, Rogers repeated his assertion that the Obama-Clinton ad gave “permission slips” to people aiming to do bad things.

“I had a very senior Middle-Eastern Arab nation intelligence official after our meeting, I said what would you ask of the United States if I could make you king for a day,” said Rogers. “He said please tell me what your Middle East policy is.

“That's caused that confusion,” said Rogers. “That lack of this sense of disengagement, is causing us huge problems, and that's why I thought the reaction to what happened with the president and the secretary creating a television ad in Pakistan was just adding, was fomenting, the problem and giving permission slips for all of the bad actors to do bad things.”

At the State Department briefing on Sept. 13, two days after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the department was being “very cautious” about saying who the perpetrators were and what their motivation was. Nonetheless, she did draw attention to “The Innocence of Muslims” video.

“Well, as we said yesterday when we were on background, we are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, whether it was premeditated, whether they had any external contacts, whether there was any link, until we have a chance to investigate along with the Libyans,” Nuland said.

“So I know that’s going to be frustrating for you, but we really want to make sure that we do this right and we don’t jump to conclusions.

“That said, obviously, there are plenty of people around the region citing this disgusting video as something that has been motivating,” said Nuland. “As the Secretary said this morning, while we as Americans, of course, respect free speech, respect free expression, there’s never an excuse for it to become violent.”

A reporter then pointed to the fact that the attack had occurred on Sept. 11 and asked if there was any indication that al Qaeda sympathizers had been involved. Nuland again drew attention to the video.

“These incidents all boiled out of the anniversary of 9/11 as well,” the reporter said. “There seems to be a detail that’s kind of missed in all of this. Is there any indication in that that there’s possibly al-Qaida sympathizers involved?”

“Again, I can’t draw any conclusions as to the who and how they were affiliated,” said Nuland. “We just can’t do that right now, and we won’t until we have more information. What I would say is that, as you have probably seen, what we’re seeing on social media, what we’re seeing in some of the local commentary, is largely related to this reprehensible video.”

In his Sunday interview with CNN, House Intelligence Chairman Rogers said he thought there was “a high degree of probability” that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was carried out by al Qaeda or an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, and that it was not about the video.

“Who were they?” CNN’s Crowly asked about the attackers.

“We don't know for sure and for certain yet,” said Rogers. “We have--At least I look at the information, have a high degree of probability that it is an al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos, and death as possible.”

Crowley followed up: “And was there, in fact, a protest about this film going on outside the consulate at the time this occurred or was this just a one-off attack?”

“I believe this was an attack,” said Rogers. “The notion about the film, and I think the administration was ill-advised to push down that road.”

“I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time,” said Rogers. “It was clearly designed to be an attack. And what's so egregious about this is that--and why every American should be offended. This isn't about George Bush or Barack Obama. It's not about Republicans, it's not about Democrats. They targeted and killed the face of the United States of America, a U.S. ambassador, and three embassy employees who were there dedicated to doing the work of the United States of America.

“This is as a serious event as I have ever seen. And it's been confusing to try to follow where the administration has been,” said Rogers. “I'm disappointed the president didn't say I'm not going to the fundraiser. I am going to go on national TV and put this right. Americans deserve the truth. They deserve the facts. And they deserve to tell the world we will not tolerate a U.S. ambassador being treated badly, let alone killed.”

At last Thursday’s State Department press briefing, Spokeswoman Nuland was asked if the department was responsible for ads running in Pakistan featuring Secretary Clinton and President Obama.

“Is the State Department paying for the ads condemning ‘Innocence of Muslims’ running on Pakistani TV now?” a reporter asked.

Nuland confirmed that was the case.

“This was a short message,” she said. “It includes the U.S. seal to make it clear that it’s official, and it also includes a notice that the ads were paid. As you know, after the video came out, there was concern in lots of bodies politic, including Pakistan, as to whether this represented the views of the U.S. Government. So in order to ensure we reached the largest number of Pakistanis--some 90 million, as I understand it in this case with these spots--it was the judgment that this was the best way to do it.”

The ads, subtitled in Urdu, featured clips from speeches by Obama and Clinton.

“So this particular message,” said Nuland, “…had President Obama, and he says, ‘Since our founding, the United States has been a nation of respect--that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.’ And then you have Secretary Clinton comes on, saying, ‘Let me state very clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its contents. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.’”

Nuland said the ads aired on about seven Pakistani stations and that the U.S. government paid $70,000 for them to run.

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