U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was the face of the Obama administration's inaccurate information on the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks, but she says that she was only repeating the talking points she was given by the intelligence community. That's the explanation Rice gave The Washington Post last night, breaking her silence about the controversy surrounding her Sept. 16 Sunday talk show blitz in which she repeatedly said the attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to anti-Muslim movie posted on YouTube. Rice told the paper her information came from daily updates from intelligence agencies and a set of talking points prepared for the administration by intelligence officials. She denied cherry-picking the intelligence in order to absolve the Obama administration from any blame for the events that transpired. “Absolutely not,” she told The Post, She said her remarks were “purely a function of what was provided to us."
Rice's denial about cherry-picking is important because it remains one of the key issues surrounding the Benghazi attacks and the administration's response. (Voters can forgive security mistakes, the world is a dangerous place, but knowingly misleading the public about what transpired is another story). Rice's denial is in line with a mea culpa issued by the director of public affair for national intelligence, Shawn Turner, on Sept. 28, explaining the intelligence communities "evolving" understanding of the events. However, there are a few aspects of Rice's remarks that welcome scrutiny.
First off, Rice claims she was merely relaying the best information she had at her disposal on Sept. 16. But that was five days after the Benghazi attack. According to three intelligence officials speaking with The Daily Beast, it only took 24 hours "to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya." If that were the case, and Rice's account is accurate, why wasn't she briefed on those intelligence findings?
When it comes to her employer, the State Department, officials there said they never concluded that the attack started as a spontaneous protest. At last week's House hearings on the events in Benghazi, State Department officials testified they could monitor the situation "in almost real-time" as the attack was happening. To some observers, that makes the inaccuracy of Rice's comments even more puzzling.
One question the The Post suggests an answer to is why Rice had such a public role in answering questions about the attacks in the first place. The official answer, as The Post puts it, is that "the White House has said that it turned to Rice to make the administration’s case on the Benghazi attack because it made sense to have a top diplomat speak to the loss of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens." But they also suggest, unofficially that her "appearances were part of a gradual increase in the public profile of an administration insider, one eyed as a potential successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state."
That's where this whole drama takes on another facet. Could this derail her chances at becoming America's next top diplomat? Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations puts it this way. “I think it would be very difficult for the administration to put her forward [for secretary of state] if she willfully mischaracterized the intelligence,” Zenko said. However, if the evidence shows that her account matches the intelligence reports, she's a lock. In other words, it's a high stakes ball game.