The New York Times whitewashes Benghazi

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard. Thomas has written extensively on the Benghazi attack and Ansar al Sharia and al Qaeda’s involvement both at The Long War Journal and The Weekly Standard.

David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times has published a lengthy account of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. While much in Kirkpatrick’s report is not new, the piece is receiving a considerable amount of attention because of this sweeping conclusion: “Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.”

But how much effort did Kirkpatrick expend to uncover any possible al Qaeda ties? Judging by the Times‘s glaring omissions, not much.

Kirkpatrick’s piece totals more than 7,000 words and yet he fingers only one suspect out of the dozens who took part in the attack. Another suspect, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, is briefly mentioned, but only then to dismiss the notion of his involvement.

Left out of the Times‘ account are the many leads tying the attackers to al Qaeda’s international network.

For instance, there is no mention of Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, an Egyptian, in Kirkpatrick’s retelling. This is odd, for many reasons.

On Oct. 29, 2012, three other New York Times journalists reported that Jamal’s network, in addition to a known al Qaeda branch (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), was directly involved in the assault. The Times reported [emphasis added]: “Three Congressional investigations and a State Department inquiry are now examining the attack, which American officials said included participants from Ansar al-Shariah, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.

Jamal was trained by al Qaeda in the late 1980s, and has been loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri since at least the 1990s. He served as a commander in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a terrorist group headed by Zawahiri that merged with bin Laden’s enterprise. Jamal left prison in 2011 and quickly got back to work.

The Egyptian press has published some of Jamal’s letters to Zawahiri. In the letters, which were written in 2011 and 2012, Jamal is extremely deferential to Zawahiri. Jamal heaps praise on Zawahiri, seeking the al Qaeda master’s guidance and additional support. Jamal even mentions that he attempted to visit Zawahiri in person, but failed to do so because of restrictions on his travel. So, Jamal writes, he sent an emissary instead.

Jamal’s letters read like status reports. He writes that he has received financing from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but requires additional funds to purchase more weaponry. Jamal also explains that he had formed “groups for us inside Sinai” and had established “an advanced base outside Egypt in Libya to take advantage of the conditions in Libya after the revolution.”

Jamal’s operations inside the Sinai and Libya included training camps. Some of the trainees from those camps took part in the Benghazi attack.

Since the New York Times and other press outlets first reported on the Jamal network’s involvement, both the US State Department and the United Nations have designated Jamal and his subordinates as terrorists. Both the US and UN designations tie Jamal’s network directly to al Qaeda.

The State Department, for instance, notes that Jamal “has developed connections with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), AQ senior leadership, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leadership.” Jamal not only received funds from AQAP, but has alsoused the AQAP network to smuggle fighters into training camps.”

While the State Department’s designation does not mention the Jamal network’s participation in the Benghazi attack, the UN’s designation does. The UN noted that both Jamal and members of his network are “[r]eported to be involved in the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 Sep. 2012.”

Jamal was arrested in November 2012 by Egyptian authorities and identified as a leader of the so-called Nasr City cell, which has multiple ties to al Qaeda.

Jamal is not the only key suspect omitted by Kirkpatrick. Another suspect is Faraj al-Shibli, a Libyan who, according to US intelligence officials, served as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard during the 1990s. According to these same officials, al-Shibli is suspected of bringing materials from the Benghazi compound to senior al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Al-Shibli was detained in Pakistan and then Libya. Al Shibli did not immediately admit his involvement in the Benghazi attacks and was subsequently released. But US officials continue to believe he played a role.

There are still other al Qaeda-linked suspects who do not receive any attention from Kirkpatrick. But the Jamal network’s part in the Benghazi story is enough alone to undermine the Times reporter’s claims.

In his Times piece and during an appearance on NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” Kirkpatrick claims that the Benghazi attackers were purely “local” actors.

This is simply not true – as demonstrated by the Jamal network’s involvement and other pieces of evidence.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • LPD-RI says:

    He is doing his part as the administration’s propaganda organ. Trying to point out facts is pointless; the liberal masses will believe whatever lies their ‘leaders’ regurgitate.

  • jhenry says:

    Nice work, Tom. I’ve been checking my LWJ RSS feed all day for a response to this article.
    The NYT article focuses on the protests and furor from Egypt regarding the video. The article then fails to mention that those protests were planned and executed by Mohammed al-Zawahiri.
    Isn’t it funny that AQAP’s political branch is called Ansar al-Sharia? And what about the Ansar al-Sharias in Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria?
    The article does include the references of the pre-operational surveillance of the Mission prior to the attack. But, that surveillance does not indicate a nearly spontaneous attack.
    Jayson Blair rides again!

  • Jimbo says:

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, this is merely the first whitewash in an effort to cleanse Hillary’s record in advance of her inevitable run. The NYT is merely the largest of the DNC’s propaganda arms – which is one of the significant reasons its circulation has plummeted in recent years and its stock is considered a junk bond. They no longer have any journalistic integrity or credibility.

  • cdog says:

    “…and other pieces of evidence.”
    Care to share with the rest of the class?

  • gb says:

    Why on earth do people in America regard the NY times as a “credible” news organization? To me most of the major media outlets to include the “Times” are akin to what Pravda was for the former Soviet Union.

  • Dominic Chan says:

    Thanks for pointing out the article. When journalism is basically fed on a political slant discourse in this way, its meant only to myopically convert fence sitters that war is wrong.

  • SA KAF says:

    History in revision…all for a Presidential “candidate”. Politics knows no low.

  • Caleb says:

    Interesting that they would leave all this information out of the so-called “in-depth investigation”. Very interesting, indeed.

  • Tom Kelleher says:

    I see little evidence to indicate outside involvement, aside from local militia, in the planning or attack on the embassy. Pointing out that some of the people knew someone’s brother in Al Qaeda is hardly persuasive.

  • Matt says:

    Great piece at Weekly Standard also. How can anyone say Ansar Al-Sharia branches are different when the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia was just captured by U.S. forces in Misratah, Libya? Of course now US denies we captured him… We seem to be choosing to keep ourselves hidden just as Al Qaeda in Libya.

  • Ty says:

    I don’t see how someone with links to the Jamal Network renders the NYT evaluation untrue. The Jamal network has links to Al Qaeda absolutely, but they aren’t themselves Al Qaeda. They lobbied to be, but were never formally adopted by Zawahiri. Al Shibli is the more convincing story, but while he may have been there at some point during or after the attack, until evidence of him actual playing some significant role in said attack is presented he likewise doesn’t really seem to do much to disprove the findings of the NYT report.
    I also feel inclined to say that just because a group has received money or even training in the past from Al Qaeda doesn’t mean that Al Qaeda plays a direct or even significant indirect role in the operations that said groups engage in. Al Qaeda was established after, in part, to be a transnational support base for non-Al Qaeda jihadi groups.

  • Oz says:

    @Ty, agreed. You can probably play 6 degrees of separation with every extremist outfit. Everything Al-Qaeda is linked to doesn’t turn into Al-Qaeda.

  • Ty says:

    A response to above comments for the purpose of fostering discussion:
    @Jhenry and Matt: Ansar al Sharia is a pretty popular organizational name it is true, however it isn’t necessarily a brand name as Al Qaeda has become. There have been attempts to make it one for sure, but most of the large Ansar al Sharia actors had already been established before such efforts took place. Furthermore, while AQAP does have a similarly named alias, the other Ansar al Sharia groups tend to operate much differently than the principles of Al Qaeda central would dictate. They are mostly regional or even local actors who, while possessing jihadi ideological structures also posses some fundamental ideological differences and functional differences (though I suppose one could say the same of many actual Al Qaeda affiliates). Here is an article that was published by Foreign Policy Magazine back in Sept. of 2012 detailing what was then known about the various groups:
    While we now have reason to suspect greater levels of contacts between some of these organizations, such connections don’t make them the same group or functionally unified.

  • mrethiopian says:

    The NY times is equally unbiased as FOX news, any blogger with half a brain understand that all news services are biased in some way. Knowing this, I read from multiple sources and come come to my own conclusions.

  • David says:

    It doesn’t render it “untrue”, exactly. It renders it very incomplete. The claim of the NYT article is not just that Al Qaeda
    was not involved, but that there was no outside involvement, and the attack was purely local, and involved at most 1 day’s planning, i.e. “nearly spontaneous”. The involvement of Jamal and the others certainly suggests otherwise. It might be possible for the NYT to nevertheless argue otherwise, but to not mention it at all really renders the analysis (but not the reporting on Khatala, which was interesting) pretty useless. And the fact that the involvement of Jamal had been reported by others in the NYT organization makes his blindness to this aspect seem willful.

  • NP says:

    What is a non Al Qaeda jihadi group? If AQ is providing training, finances, weapons, logistics, tacticians, etc… to a group that makes them part of Al Qaeda. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… I believe some in here are trying to split hairs.

  • Ty says:

    @ David
    I wasn’t under the impression that Jamal himself had been asserted to have been directly involved (indirectly perhaps through previous training given to jihadis in general), I was under the impression that the individual in question was simply a member of the Jamal Network. One reason why I don’t see it as evidence of direct Al Qaeda involvement or even of significant direct Jamal Network involvement is because the presence of one of the groups members doesn’t in any way indicate that the Jamal Network was involved in the planning, logistical work, or were in cohorts with Ansar al Sharia and the other militias in terms of this attack. At face value it simply tells us that one such person was in Benghazi at the time and showed up on the scene at some point (which shouldn’t be a surprise, the same happened to be true of a NYT reporter, but I don’t think we are going to start suggesting that the NYT was involved in the planning and executing of the attack).
    I have no problem with the questioning of the NYT story line, but the vagueness of the popular attempted critiques to me falls short of justifying much of the strong assertions being made against the report’s findings. In other words, these critiques for me, leave a significant amount of substance to be desired. Benghazi is a significant place, I’m sure there were people from all sorts of places and groups who could have heard about the attack and shown up. I need more, and until there is more I’m left with the local militias as the primary culprits for the organization, and planning of the attack and doing so primarily independently.

  • Ty says:

    A non-Al Qaeda jihadi group is just that: a group dedicated to armed struggle (in some form), but isn’t a recognized official affiliate of Al Qaeda. Even this is a little too general in describing Ansar al Sharia Benghazi.
    Why does it make a difference? Because all groups aren’t the same. They don’t have the same resources, the same operating parameters, the same operating style, even the same ideological structures and global visions. Generalizing with a catch-all term like Al Qaeda not only muddles public understanding of what exactly Al Qaeda is, but it prevents us from being able to effectively exploit the fissures and wide differences and political realities that exist within the global militant community.
    In addition, simply calling them Al Qaeda can be damaging and counter to our actual counter terrorism strategy. Al Qaeda isn’t just a popular catch-all term for us here in the States, it is also a popular brand name among different jihadist groups and such groups will attempt to utilize it to strengthen themselves. It may allow them to better recruit foreign or local soldiers for example, or easier to extort funding out of populations.
    By not caring enough to make these distinctions we only hurt ourselves, muddle our understanding of these groups (thus making it harder to fight / secure ourselves against them), and may even indirectly help such groups. I don’t really find any of that to be a desirable part of counter terror strategy.

  • Ringo says:

    I come to this site for reporting, not editorials. I am not saying the NYT story is complete, but I hope LWJ sticks to nonpartisan coverage.

  • blert says:

    What you’re reading is Somnolent Propaganda the counterpoint to Agitation Propaganda. (aka Agitprop)
    The latter is used to elevate into prominence notions (grievances) otherwise too petty and obscure.
    Somnolent Propaganda is used to bury prominent scandals that would otherwise preclude the advancement of a ranking ideologue.
    In the case at hand, we have a “structured, modified, limited hang-out.”
    It’s “structured” because the NY Times crafted an entire narrative scaffold to carry it from ‘soup to nuts.’ It can’t even crawl on its own.
    The “modified, limited hang-out” was invented by the spooks. Google the term. Wiki has it very well spelled out.
    This media tactic is designed to cork-off ‘leaking’ truth.
    Because of the war chest involved, stooges are sent far and wide, across all the name blogs, to squelch logical imputations against the client.
    A database of relevant blogs is always kept up to date by the players. It is now understood that they play THE critical role in forming public opinion, leading the media by days if not weeks.
    The NY Times realizes that Barry is a lame duck, that 0-care has broken legs, and that it’s high time to pass the baton to Bill’s wife.
    Since she is so inept in the primaries, it’s necessary to clear the field years in advance.
    Some wags say that 0bama feels entitled….
    No-one on Earth feels more entitled than Mrs. Clinton.
    There is a big hitch: her advancing years may put a terrible crimp on the entire effort. Campaigning may well take more energy than she can give.
    And she represents a continuation of Barry’s policies… Eight-years of additional turmoil is going to be a tough sell.
    There’s a real reason that DNC power brokers went with 0bama and dumped Mrs. Clinton. The knew her off camera personality. That was quite enough.
    The NY Times exposition should’ve run strictly as an opinion piece. It stands in studied contrast to the opinions expressed by Libyan officialdom who have been calling the shot from the get go. (Ditto: Cairo)


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