GOP disputes NYT report that al Qaeda not involved in Benghazi attacks

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pushed back on a New York Times investigation of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

A New York Times investigation of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has some congressional Republicans challenging the report’s conclusion that neither al Qaeda nor any international terrorist groups played a role in the attack that left four Americans dead.

“I don't know it was an exhaustive investigation,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on “Fox News Sunday.” Asked by host Chris Wallace what the report got wrong, Rogers said, “That al Qaeda was not involved. There was some level of preplanning, we know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya. We know that.”

Based on a several-month investigation that involved interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, the Times was unable to find evidence that suggested al Qaeda played a role in the attack. They did suggest that there was involvement by Ansar al-Sharia, a group the article calls “Benghazi’s most overtly anti-Western militia.”

“Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda’s international terrorist network,” author David Kirkpatrick writes in his conclusion.

The report calls the events on Sept. 11, 2012, “murkier” than the narratives offered up by the administration or Republicans.

“Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs,” it stated. Kirkpatrick also writes that, “contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has led several hearings about the attacks as the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Kirkpatrick had done “very good work” but stood by his contention that it was not an anti-Islam video that spurred the attacks, a narrative first offered by Susan Rice, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

“We have seen no evidence that the video was widely seen in Benghazi, a very isolated area, or that it was a leading cause. What we do know is that September 11th was not an accident. These are terrorist groups, some of them linked to or…self-claimed as al Qaeda linked,” Issa said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Al Qaeda is not decimated and there was a group there that was involved that is linked to al Qaeda,” he added.

Rogers disputed the suggestion that Ansar al-Shariah has no ties to al Qaeda. “Did they have differences of opinion with al Qaeda core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al Qaeda core? Definitely,” he said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. , a member of the House Intelligence Committee who appeared alongside Rogers, said he agreed that intelligence reports indicated al Qaeda was involved. “But,” he said, “there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al Qaeda that were involved.”

“I think the intelligence paints a portrait that some came to murder, some people came to destroy property, some merely came to loot, and some came in part motivated by those videos. So it is a complex picture,” Schiff said. “There was some planning, as [Rogers] points out, but it was not extensive. I don't think it's either accurate to characterize this as a long-term preplanned core al Qaeda operation or something completely unaffiliated.”

Kirkpatrick, who also appeared on “Meet the Press,” defended his conclusions.

“There is just no chance that this was an al Qaeda attack if, by al Qaeda, you mean the organization founded by Osama bin Laden,” he said. “I've tried to understand some of the statements coming out of United States Congress blaming al Qaeda for this, and the only way that they make sense to me is if you're using the term al Qaeda a little differently. If you're using the term al Qaeda to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who may dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, if you're going to call anybody like that al Qaeda, then OK.” 

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Michael Hayden, the former head of the National Security Administration and the CIA said the Times’ report “has the ring of truth to it.”

“These kinds of events are a lot more nuanced than we would like them to be looking back at them in retrospect. When the attack happened, actually on this network a few days afterwards, I was asked who did it. And I said, ‘Well, you know, the al Qaeda movement divided into three layers, Al Qaeda prime, formerly affiliated and like minded.’ And at the time, I said this was probably high-end, like minded or low-end affiliated. And I think the Times story today kind of bears that out,” he said. 

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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