Let’s start by giving David Kirkpatrick credit. Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times and author of this weekend’s much-discussed piece on Benghazi, provides many new on-the-ground, minute-by-minute details of the attacks and the weeks and months leading up to them. Some of the reporting is incredible. Kirkpatrick describes the vase in the living room of the home belonging to the mother of Abu Khattala, a main suspect in those attacks. He reports on how the fighting in the consulate paused when Abu Khattala entered the compound, a revealing fact. Citing security camera video footage, the author describes how one of the attackers paused amidst the bedlam in the consulate to pour some Hershey’s chocolate syrup down his throat. Kirkpatrick obviously spent considerable time on the ground in Benghazi and interviewed several anti-Western Islamists, including some involved in the attacks. There’s little doubt he took considerable risks as he reported his piece.
While much of Kirkpatrick’s reporting is admirable and while these details add to our knowledge of certain aspects of the attack, they do not tell the whole story. And that’s where the piece ultimately fails.
The piece makes two main claims that challenge much of the previous reporting about Benghazi: 1) The Times asserts that there is “no evidence that al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault;” and, 2) that the attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
We'll focus on the first one.
There is, in fact, evidence that terrorists linked to al Qaeda had a role in the Benghazi attacks. Indeed, there’s a fair amount of that kind of evidence. As Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence put it on Sunday when asked about the Times report: “The intelligence indicates that al Qaeda was involved, but there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al Qaeda involved.” Schiff who has defended the Obama administration on Benghazi and praised the Times piece as adding “valuable insights,” nonetheless pronounced it incomplete and hinted that signals intelligence contradicted the claims in the piece. The Times report, Schiff continued, was “deficient in they didn’t have the same access to people who were not aware they were being listened to. They were heavily reliant obviously on people that they interviewed who had a reason to provide the story that they did.” He concluded: “So I think it does add some insights but I don’t think it’s complete.”
In addition to the signals intelligence Schiff mentions, there is abundant open-source reporting that contradicts Kirkpatrick’s sweeping claim about “no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” And most problematic for this revisionist account, some of that evidence comes from the Times itself in a story the paper published on October 29, 2012.
That story, like this latest one, was a major front-page investigative piece. It reported that “American officials” said the Benghazi attacks “included participants from Ansar al Shariah, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.” So according to previous reporting in the Times, the Benghazi attacks included participants from the main al Qaeda affiliate in Libya and a terrorist network in Egypt, and, contrary to Kirkpatrick’s assertion, evidence that both al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups played some role in the assault. Kirkpatrick was presumably aware of that earlier report, since he was credited with contributing reporting from Benghazi.
There’s more. As my colleague Tom Joscelyn reports, the namesake of that Egyptian jihadist network, Muhammad Jamal, is not mentioned in the Times’s latest piece. Why not? The Times had previously reported the involvement of his network. When Mohammad Jamal was arrested in Egypt in December of 2012, two months after the Times article that mentioned him, the Wall Street Journal reported on his extensive ties to al Qaeda and its senior leadership, as well as his alleged involvement in the Benghazi attacks.
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