Updated at bottom of post | Bit by bit, slowly but surely, the Obama administration's initial story about what transpired in the deadly September 11 terrorist attack unraveled over the past few weeks. At the same time, we learned, no thanks to broadcast network newscasts that largely ignored the story -- that the consulate was poorly secured, that security personnel had been reduced in the weeks preceding 9/11, and that Amb. Chris Stevens feared for his life.
So how did the Washington Post cover yesterday's House Oversight Committee hearing into "The Security Failures of Benghazi"? According to Post staffer Anne Gearan, it was a "highly charged" partisan exercise that "produced few new revelations about the attack" although it "underscored the administration's political vulnerability over the Benghazi episode four weeks before the presidential election."
You may recall that in the Wednesday edition of the Post, Gearan worried that the "Deadly Benghazi attack could mar [Hillary] Clinton's legacy." To Gearan, it's worrisome that a Democratic secretary of state could see her "legacy" (read: political future?) endangered by the deaths of four Americans at poorly-guarded diplomatic mission, but Republicans investigating the matter 27 days before an election is untoward.
To her credit, Gearan did note the contortions that Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy performed in defending Amb. Susan Rice, but this was buried deep in the article, when it very well could have been the lede (emphasis mine):
In a briefing for reporters Tuesday, the State Department said for the first time that it had never concluded that the attack was the result of a protest over the video. But none of the witnesses Wednesday was so definitive.
Kennedy took pains to defend Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, from intense Republican criticism of her initial account of the attack as the outgrowth of a protest in television appearances on Sept. 16.
“The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point,” Kennedy said. “As time went on, additional information became available.”
In a heated exchange with Kennedy, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) declared: “This was never about a video. It was never spontaneous. It was terror.”
In a separate piece on page A2, headlined, "Security lapses indeed," columnist Dana Milbank lamented that Republicans "accidentally blew the CIA's cover" with statements made in the public hearing that suggested strongly that the CIA had operations in the Benghazi consulate that were attacked on September 11.
"Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed... was a CIA base," Milbank groused, adding a few grafs later that there may still be such a CIA facility in the city and hence American intelligence operations on the ground going forward may be compromised.
Milbank's play is pretty obvious: move the narrative from the Obama administration's incompetence to the supposed incompetence of Republican congressmen investigating the administration.
But if the CIA was involved in Benghazi, doesn't this make matters on the Obama administration's end even worse? After all, there were secure materials that were left unsecured at the compounds days, even weeks after the attack, and remember, the FBI didn't get a ground team in to investigate until three weeks after the terrorist strike.
Even in their attempts to provide cover for the Obama administration, the Washington Post's staffers cannot help but disclose information that is damaging to the White House.
That’s not to say that the media didn’t cover it at all. Dana Milbank, for instance, drilled down instantly to the real crux of the issue — the fact that Republicans are talking about CIA missions and spilling their secrets:
When House Republicans called a hearing in the middle of their long recess, you knew it would be something big, and indeed it was: They accidentally blew the CIA’s cover.
The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to examine security lapses that led to the killing in Benghazi last month of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others. But in doing so, the lawmakers reminded us why “congressional intelligence” is an oxymoron.
Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed, described by the administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex,” was a CIA base. They did this, helpfully, in a televised public hearing.
Wow! None of us knew that … except those who read it in the New York Times on September 24th:
Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.
“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. "We got our eyes poked out."