Monthly Archives: July 2016

Benghazi: What I found after digging through Hillary’s email


My lord Benghazi was a political spectacle. It’s been a talking point for the American right ever since it occurred.

… It was because of a movie, then it wasn’t. Then the characterization of the event was an “act of terror” instead of terrorism. Then it was that the protests were spontaneous, then they weren’t. Then the conspiracy theorists started suspecting Clinton of orchestrating the whole thing, and assumed that Obama was sympathetic towards their cause … ehhh …. what a mess.
So I wanted to find out for myself. To read some of the emails pertaining to Benghazi that are available. And, by the way, there are over 30,000 Clinton emails available on Wikileaks. That means that all you peeps screaming about Clinton’s email scandal are free to search what’s been leaked and released from the State department.

… And I decided to search some of these alleged “secret” emails the House keeps screaming about — most of which are forwarded Reuters or AP articles, NYT blogs, and FYI emails.

But nonetheless, I found out some interesting information about how the State department functions at that level, and what could have been the cause of all the confusion that exploded from Benghazi (other than the obvious Republicans-taking-the-opportunity-to-discredit-Clinton routine). And to all: this is NOT meant to be a pro-Clinton writeup, it’s really an actual attempt to clarify the Benghazi incident.


Firstly, intelligence, particularly at that level, seems pretty confusing.

There are thousands of cables sent back and fourth between embassies every day. There are also thousands of bits of “intelligence,” which is nothing more than news reports, human contact reporting, perhaps digital stuff (more for DIA and NSA), foreign newspapers, meetings with foreign officials … anything that says something about something. Something like the following:

Friendly source X reports that leader Y is open to negotiations with Western utilities firms. It is the opinion of source X that leader Y shares the same goals that secretary HRC has at this time.

… That would be a piece of intelligence. So the embassies, which HRC was in charge of at the time, get information from intelligence, and cables transmit information back and fourth. But here’s what intelligence analysts and policymakers have trouble with: Is the intelligence accurate? How reliable is the source? Does the conduct of leader Y actually correspond accurately with the statement? How likely is that this statement is true? Because misinformation is sent all the time, and, as one could imagine, people lie to intelligence collectors all the time (hence the difficulty the military, CIA or FBI have in collecting intel).

And there are thousands of random bits of information like this; every day. It’s the job of advisors and analysts to filter through the BS to offer actual information to decision makers such as Secretary Clinton (at the time) or President Obama.

In the Benghazi case, there are a few emails that hint at how the top advisor to Clinton, Jacob Sullivan, organized information to Clinton, and shows what she was looking at in the months leading up to the 9/11 attack in 2012.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the emails about the situation in Libya (post-Qaddafi):

“The Benghazi protestors appear to be a pastiche of different groups of disaffected people including war-wounded, martyrs’ families, transparency and accountability demendeurs, and those who believe the east is once again being neglected. So the source of this report attributing the whole thing to war-wounded does not jive, although they may have been the ones who carried out the violent acts. The Belhaj bogeyman is a bit overplayed-no doubt his military influence has waned but he does remain a player —one of many —looking to make political gain in this newenvironment The proposition that he is just lying in waiting to take advantage of the current stability to move in and establish an Islamic state appears a bit exaggerated. “ – Jan 24, 2012, in an email chain to HRC

It seems as though in early 2012, the transitional government of Libya was attempting to patch together a fractured country in the wake of political transition. And this is called statebuilding.

And one of the most-important objectives is how the new government treats the different milita groups — because if the winners aren’t happy, you risk falling back into war. Here are some questions to address: What do the winning militias get? How do you reintroduce different competing groups to one another again, in society? What about the grievances of the wounded and their families? State infrastructure and roads? How about the administrators in the past government, do they still have jobs? Formal military; is there a military or just militias? What do you do about war crimes? And how about economics? How about setting up a stock exchange? What about private businesses? Loans? Banks? … So there was a lot going on at the time with transition into an actual government after Qaddafi (and any country post-revolution more broadly).

And here’s the thing: The US knew from Iraq II that dissolving the military was a bad option. The Obama administration also understood that those in Iraq viewed the transitional government, at their time in Iraq, as a Western puppet government. And this is why the US didn’t do the same thing.

The Obama administration, it seems to me, left more decision-making authority to the transitional government and was relatively hands off. After all, Obama never unilaterally invaded Libya, and intervention only helped topple the leader, but the US never officially supported any one splinter group. And they seemed to allow the Libyans to take care of Libyan problems — the US merely helped kill Qaddafi with the help of NATO.

So, if anything, the email above clarifies how fragile Libya was at that time (the rest of the email contains information about all the problems the transitional leader was facing at the time). It also highlights how HRC gets her information, and how some intelligence may have been missed.


After the protests occurred, I found an interesting email from Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as the Director of Policy Planning to HRC until 2011 sometime. She writes HRC:

“You’ve been very much in my thoughts all week. I know how deeply and personally you must feel the loss of lives on your watch — not in the abstract but as husbands, fathers, dedicated public servants, people you knew and cared about. … [But] To have Libyans carrying placards saying “We are sorry America; this does not represent Islam,” is exactly what we hoped for when we supported the Libyan intervention. Many Libyan bloggers/tweeters have taken the same stance. And to have elected Libyan and Tunisian governments publicly apologizing and denouncing the violence shows a very different face of Islam — the Tunisian government is a Muslim Brotherhood government; even to have a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt do anything but fan the flames would never have been predicted even two years ago. We have seen many social media inspired riots over the past 3-4 years; think of the impact of the planned Koran burning; the Danish cartoons; etc. That again is old news. What is new are the voices willing to denounce the violence.” — October 7, 2012

That short excerpt shows a constructivist strategy indeed — one embraced not only by Obama, but also HRC. The goal of the Libyan intervention was to enhance the image of America. To help convince Middle Eastern states that the US doesn’t want a puppet government, because a stable, autonomous Middle East is far better. And, most importantly, the administration wants to reduce violence — and this former HRC adviser explains how the next generation, she thinks, seems to share the same goals.

So this reveals that the constructivist approach is indeed what Obama’s approach was in Libya, and HRC followed that approach. This also shows how many in the policy and higher-education circles approve the approach yet were saddened by the protests.

Also, here is how Hillary dealt with some of the fallout from the protests (after she was accused of mis-characterizing the attacks as spontaneous rather than planned):

“Attached is full compilation. You never said spontaneous or characterized the motives. in fact you were careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method. The way you treated the video in the Libya context was to say that some sought to *justify* the attack on that basis.” — September 24, 2012 email from Jacob Sullivan to HRC

Included in that email were all the statements HRC put out, for her to review. And with the text below, Sullivan is careful to say that she never characterized the protests’ motive as either planned or not.

Overall, I’m not sure that we can fully piece together the Libya event with the emails available. But Clinton, I’m pretty sure, is not directly at fault. There was probably imperfect intelligence, miscommunication, and decision-making might not have been as quick as it should be. And, to be honest, it might be that we’ll never know all of the details, and even if we did, it still might not be clear. Because that’s how politics works — nothing is ever fully predictable and not everything goes according to plan. At the end of the day, we work in probabilities rather than certainty.

… Also, I don’t really see that anything I’ve read in the emails is “secret” or “top secret.” But here’s what I can tell from some of these emails and whatnot:

  1. Republicans clearly intend to make the email fiasco purely political (and by extension the “classified” email scandal).
  2. The situation in Libya was highly complex, and the administration’s position was to let the transitional council hash out Libyan problems. Issues with competing groups, conservatives, liberals, Sharia law advocates, anti-Western groups, victims, and a whole host of other groups made the situation unstable.
  3. The intelligence behind diplomacy is messy, and events are difficult to predict.

… And that’s about all I have. Again, I looked through a decent amount of emails, but there are over 30,000, so again, go search them yourself if you’re interested and try to come to a conclusion on your own.