The Cable

Key Hillary Backer Says NYT Benghazi Investigation Is ‘Truth’

For supporters of Hillary Clinton like David Brock, this weekend's exhaustive New York Times investigation into Benghazi wasn't just a victory of truth over rumor-mongering. It was a victory for 2016.

The Times report, which went to great lengths to debunk GOP allegations about the mechanics and motivations behind last year's attack, could blunt Republican criticisms of then-Secretary of State Clinton's handling of the incident.  Brock, a vocal member of the pro-Hillary caucus, wants to make sure you don't miss the article.

"The New York Times report is exhaustive and thorough, and replaces hearsay and downright lies with facts and perspective," Brock, the chairman of the American Bridge super PAC told The Cable. "The value is that it cuts through the politicization of this tragedy and empowers the American people with the truth about what transpired."

For the last several months, Brock's group has committed itself to defending Clinton as a part of its Correct the Record project run with the help of Burns Strider, a former senior adviser to Clinton's 2008 campaign for the White House. Brock says the Times article brings clarity to an incident he has previously accused the GOP of exploiting to "tarnish the reputation of Hillary Clinton as she mulled a 2016 presidential bid." A former conservative during the Clinton administration, Brock's views shifted sharply to the left during the George W. Bush administration when he founded the liberal watchdog Media Matters.

The Times' David Kirkpatrick spent months on the investigation which included interviews with more than a dozen witnesses and militia members. It finds that contrary to many allegations, and some testimonies by State Department officials, the attack was in part fueled by outrage over the American-made film The Innocence of Muslims, as the Obama administration initially suggested. The article also found that there is no evidence supporting al Qaeda's role in the incident (although other Islamic militant groups sympathetic to Qaeda's ideology were most certainly involved).

Republicans have long accused Clinton and the administration of downplaying the role of al Qaeda in an effort to boost the re-election prospects of President Obama. The administration maintained that it portrayed the terror network's role as accurately as possible, a claim now bolstered by the Times.

But given the politically-charged nature of the report, the Grey Lady has now been thrust into the partisan battle.

On Monday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) accused the Times of using the investigation to improve Clinton's electoral prospects. "I don't know why [The Times] put it out unless it was for political reasons, but we thoroughly dispute that story as far as the link to al Qaeda," he told Fox News. "I think they are already laying the groundwork [for 2016]."

On Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) also questioned the Times' motivations. "I find the timing odd," he said. "I find it interesting that there is this rollout of stories."

The Times apparently found those allegations so troubling that its editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal penned a blog post defending the paper's independence.

"We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton. We have not chosen anyone," he wrote. "I can also state definitively that there was no editorial/newsroom conspiracy of any kind, because I knew nothing about the Benghazi article until I read it in the paper on Sunday."

The fact that the Times has become the target of GOP ire is unsurprising given how important the incident has become for many in the party. Both the GOP base and many of its leaders strenuously disapprove of Clinton's handling of the Benghazi attack and are well aware of her status as the most likely Democratic presidential nominee.

Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Ready for Hillary, a super PAC urging Clinton to run for president, said the the criticisms were telling. "Those who are spending all day, every day attacking Hillary are doing so because they are aware of the groundswell of support behind her," he said. He declined to weigh in on the article specifically.

Although a State Department review of the incident harshly criticized the department for relying on local militias to secure the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Republicans say the review failed to hold senior officials accountable for missing warning signs visible on the ground and in diplomatic cables. Republicans also dispute the Times report, insisting that Al Qaeda did have a role in the attack that has been made known in classified intelligence briefings to Congress. Given that some Democrats, such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), appear to agree with that point, it's unlikely that the Benghazi debate will go away anytime soon. As a result, Clinton's 2016 political apparatus won't be hard-pressed to find work.

The Cable

Olympic Officials: No Extra Security at Sochi After Bombings

Russian security services and the U.S. Olympic Committee are taking no extra security precautions for the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, despite a pair of suspected terrorist attacks on a train station and city bus that have claimed at least 32 lives in Russia in the past two days.

Patrick Sandusky, a spokesperson for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which represents the American delegation of athletes, told The Cable that his group is not treating preparations for the Sochi games any differently than other competitions, including the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah. "We treat them all equally," Sandusky said.  "Terrorism happens everywhere, not just in Russia," Sandusky said.

Among the delegation to the Sochi games, which begin February 7, will be about 250 American athletes, as well as American officials, tourists, and business people. And while U.S. security officials will be on the ground working with their Russian counterparts, it's the Russian government that's ultimately responsible for keeping all athletes and attendees safe.

"Russian authorities will be responsible for overall security for the Olympic Games," White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told The Cable. "U.S. personnel will be in Russia in liaison roles."

But officially, the Russians are taking no extra measures to shore up security or increase screening of attendees. "No additional security measures will be taken in Sochi in light of the terrorist attack," Aleksandr Zhukov, the president of Russia's Olympic Committee and a senior member of Parliament told the Interfax news agency. "Everything necessary has been done."

Agents from the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security will have the lead role for the U.S. government and will "liaise with host-nation security and law-enforcement officials," Hayden said. "This is standard operating procedure for large events, such as the Olympic Games in Sochi, where thousands of U.S. citizens, athletes from Team USA, American corporate sponsors, and members of the U.S. media are present for an extended period of time."

But American involvement at such events is mostly reduced to a coordinating relationship, a senior U.S. diplomatic security official told The Cable. "This is on the Russians. If something goes wrong, it's really the host country that has a huge stake," he said.

"I doubt the Russians are even letting us in the country armed," added the official, who noted that during the 2012 summer games in London, U.S. diplomatic security officials did not carry weapons. "It's more about coordinating intelligence and making sure everything runs smoothly" with the Russians, he said.

The high-profile assignment follows a difficult chapter for the Diplomatic Security bureau, which was criticized for providing inadequate protection for U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attack last year that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. In December 2012, Eric Boswell, the head of diplomatic security at the State Department, resigned after a hash internal report detailed missteps ahead of the attack. But some officials say the bureau was made the scapegoat for a broader failure by the military and the CIA to protect American diplomats.

Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican who's the co-chair of the House Russian Caucus, urged securtiy officials to respond in light of the bombing. "That begins with taking every threat seriously and acting accordingly, so that the Winter Olympics remain a dream for athletes around the globe, instead of becoming a nightmare like Benghazi," Grimm said in a statement.

The twin bombings in the city of Volgograd, about 400 miles from the site of the Olympic venue, have turned the focus of security officials in Russia and the United States to Chechen leader Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate organization, which is seeking to break off from Russia. Umarov pledged in July to use "maximum force" to disrupt the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin met Monday night with security officials and sent the chief of the Federal Security Service to Volgograd to oversee the investigations, according to the Kremlin.

The White House issued a statement Monday condemning the attacks, adding, "The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants."

Administration officials had said that security relations between the United States and Russia improved following the Boston Marathon bombing in April, after the accused perpetrators were identified as Chechen immigrants and Putin pledged his country's cooperation with the U.S. investigation. But diplomatic ties have been strained in the past six months, after former National Security Agency contractor fled to Russia and was granted political asylum after leaking classified documents about intelligence operations.

The question remains whether the bombings in Volgograd were isolated, or a prelude to more violence in Sochi next month. "My feeling is that it might be a diversion, to distract attention of the secret services from Sochi," said Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and expert on the country's security services. Soldatov noted that before the hostage-taking at a school in Beslan in September 2004, suicide bombers took down two planes out of Moscow. And days before Chechen militants took hostages in a theatre in Moscow in October 2002, a car was blown up in the Russian capital.

"The [federal security service] should think of how to provide security not only in Sochi/Moscow, but in Central Russia as a whole, and in Volgograd in particular," Soldatov said.