Finding the truth for Benghazi is hard when you’re only pretending to look

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A policeman walking his beat late one night spotted a drunk on his hands and knees in front of a lamppost, peering intently at the ground.

“I’m looking for my car keys,” he said after the cop asked him what he was doing.

After helping the drunk search for a few fruitless minutes, the cop asked: “Are you sure this is where you dropped them?”

“No, I lost them in the park across the street,” the drunk replied.

“So why are you looking for them here?” asked the exasperated cop.

“Because the light is so much better,” the drunk replied.

The joke illustrates the “streetlight effect” — bias in scientific studies that occurs when researchers look where it’s easiest rather than where answers are most likely to be found. I was reminded of it by a lengthy article in the New York Times Sunday.

“Months of investigation turned up no evidence that al-Qaida or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault” on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, said Cairo Bureau Chief David Kirkpatrick. The attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

It’s hard to find the truth when you look in the wrong places, harder still when you are only pretending to look.

The investigation “centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack,” chiefly Ahmed Abu Khattala, leader of Ansar al-Sharia, a local Islamist militia, which Libyan and U.S. intelligence officials believe led the assault.

Mr. Khattala expressed admiration for al-Qaida, but denied any connection to it. It seems not to have occurred to Mr. Kirkpatrick that Mr. Khattala might be lying.

Ansar al-Sharia “has increasingly embodied al-Qaida’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States,” said a report issued jointly by the Pentagon and the Congressional Research Service the month before the attack.

“Speculation about Ansar al-Sharia’s plan for Libya ended this week when the al-Qaida proponents released a mission statement demanding the imposition of Islamic law,” a website sponsored by U.S. Africa Command reported last month.

Mr. Kirkpatrick neglected to mention members of the terror network established by Muhammad Jamal, an Egyptian whose ties to al-Qaida have been well documented by, among others, the New York Times, also took part in the attack, as did former Osama bin Laden bodyguard Faraj al Shibli.

The claim the attack was “spontaneous” is “completely false,” a survivor told Adam Housley of Fox News. Planning for it began long before any mention on social media in Libya of the Youtube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The video “was a non-event in Libya,” Ambassador Stevens’ deputy testified.

“It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an al-Qaida-led event,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The New York Times got the story wrong because it didn’t have access to what participants in the attack said when they didn’t know U.S. intelligence was listening, said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-N.Y.

Mr. Schiff is too kind. Weasel words in it suggest the purpose of the story is to whitewash a blemish on the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Mr. Kirkpatrick describes the attack as “not meticulously planned,” rather than as “spontaneous,” as she had, which suggests he knows the truth, and is trying to shade it rather than slap it in the face.)

This attempt to revise history may backfire, said Bing West, a former Marine and Defense Department official.

“We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act,” President Barack Obama said the day after. But no arrests have been made.

Mr. West finds this odd, because whatever doubt there may be about Mr. Khattala’s motives and associations, there is none about his guilt.

“Not one sentence in the article explained why the administration allows Khattala to strut freely around Benghazi today,” he noted. “Why is Khattala off-limits? That is the real story.

“The rambling article was intended to defend the administration,” Mr. West said. “Instead, it has succeeded in reopening the Benghazi affair.”

Jack Kelly is a writer for the Pittsburgh Press and The Blade of Toledo.

First Published January 3, 2014 4:11 PM

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