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Rice on Benghazi: Blame the intelligence community

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told Republican senators that her televised statements last month on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were based entirely on information she was given by the intelligence community. "In my Sept. 16 Sunday show appearances, I was asked to provide the administration’s latest understanding of what happened in Benghazi," ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told Republican senators that her televised statements last month on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were based entirely on information she was given by the intelligence community.

"In my Sept. 16 Sunday show appearances, I was asked to provide the administration’s latest understanding of what happened in Benghazi," Rice wrote in a Thursday letter to Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policy makers. This information represented the intelligence community’s best, current assessment as of the date of my television appearances, and I went out of my way to ensure it was consistent with the information that was being given to Congress."

Rice was responding to a Sept. 26 letter from the GOP senators in which they accused Rice of jumping the gun and disseminating false information about the attack. The letter quotes Rice’s comments selectively, leaving out the context where she cautioned that the information was based on initial assessments. Rice emphasized in her response that she had caveated her remarks in her TV appearances.

She also pointed to a Sept. 28 statement from Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, admitting that the intelligence community had changed its view of the attack.

"As the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes more information related to the attack, our understanding of the event continues to evolve," Turner said. "As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists."

For McCain, Johnson, Ayotte, and Graham, Rice’s deflection of blame is not enough to absolve the administration of responsibility for mistakes before and after the attack. They also say they doubt the intelligence community’s true views were what Rice and Turner claimed.

"Elements of the intelligence community apparently told the administration within hours of the attack that militants connected with al Qaeda were involved, yet Ambassador Rice claims her comments five days later reflected the ‘best’ and ‘current’ assessment of the intelligence community. Either the Obama administration is misleading Congress and the American people, or it is blaming the entire failure on the intelligence community," the senators said in a joint response to Rice’s letter today.

"Ambassador Rice claims the administration launched a ‘comprehensive’ effort to determine what happened in Benghazi, but the administration failed to secure the scene of the terrorist attack for three weeks — allowing evidence and sensitive information to be compromised and destroyed. From beginning to end, the administration’s behavior in the wake of the attack indicates a breathtaking level of incompetence and suggests an intent to deliberately mislead Congress and the American people."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin