High-profile Republican politicians and their media surrogates are accusing President Obama and other top White House staff of “lying” to the public about last month’s deadly assault on America’s diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
This accusation not only misses the mark but also demonstrates how profoundly the accusers misunderstand how intelligence works. In fact, the White House’s evolving timeline for what happened in Benghazi is proof of precisely the opposite of what the breathless accusers suggest — it is a sign of a normal, healthy intelligence process.
To believe that the initial statements about what happened in Benghazi were a lie, one has to assume: (1) The administration had all the facts, even as the situation was evolving; (2) the administration chose to tell a deliberately false story about those facts; and (3) the story it told was consistent, with no administration official contradicting the official line. There is little evidence to support any of these three pillars of the Republican case against the White House.
To be clear, I don’t have access to the raw or finished intelligence detailing the particulars of the Benghazi investigation. (If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this.) But I did serve as a CIA analyst during the Bush Administration, and I authored dozens of finished products on terrorists and their strategies. I have seen how this process works. When intelligence from a conflict zone is assessed, the results are not clear, linear, or static. Rather, 21st-century intelligence analysis — particularly when it is occurring in real-time and on something high-profile — can be messy, obtuse and, above all, evolving.
So, here are four facts about intelligence analysis to consider before accusing any president (regardless of party) of lying during a crisis: