[Ed. – It takes Dickerson about 1,000 words to make his not-terribly-persuasive case. Everyone set to hear Obama hem and haw his whether through this or some other circuitous argument?]
[H]ow far off was Rice to talk about the video when compared with the information being put together at the time by the CIA, presumably the administration’s best intelligence source? Rhodes sent his email at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14. Nine hours earlier, the CIA had sent its first set of talking points. The very first line of the first CIA talking point read: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.” (The original copies are here, released by the White House last May.)
What was causing the protests in Cairo that the CIA mentions? The video. If you said the uproar over L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was created by foul racism versus saying it was created by an audiotape, how significant would the distinction be? Here’s what Rice actually said on Face the Nation: “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy—sparked by this hateful video.”
It may now be laughable for anyone to suggest that the Libyan attack was spontaneous, but that’s a question for the CIA, which made spontaneity its first and most durable claim that weekend. An intelligence failure is a different thing than a lie, and it should lead to a different set of questions about the underlying policy and skills of administration officials to accurately understand the world. You could also ask whether it’s possible to make good policy when engaged in one-foot-in and one-foot-out operations like the U.S. attack on Libya. But those are policy questions, not cover-up questions.