How long had it been since President Obama attended his daily intelligence meeting in the lead-up to the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt and Libya? After all, our adversaries are known to use the anniversary of 9/11 to target the United States. According to the public schedule of the president, the last time the Obama attended his daily intelligence meeting was Sept. 5 — a week before Islamist radicals stormed our embassy in Cairo and terrorists killed our ambassador to Tripoli. The president was scheduled to hold the intelligence meeting at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday, the day after the attacks, but it was canceled so that he could comfort grieving employees at the State Department — as well he should. But instead of rescheduling the intelligence briefing for later in the day, Obama apparently chose to skip it altogether and attend a Las Vegas fundraiser for his re-election campaign. One day after a terrorist attack.
On Monday the same Washington Post columnist, Marc Thiessen, reported that the president has missed 62 percent of his daily in-person intel briefings in 2011 and 2012. President Bush almost never missed a briefing after 9/11. I recognize that a president's schedule is extremely demanding, especially in the teeth of a campaign, so passing on these meetings occasionally would be understandable. I cannot, however, fathom how the president could justify canceling and not re-scheduling his intelligence briefing the day after an active US Ambassador was murdered in the line of duty, and as an international crisis continues to spread. The White House offers a two-fold defense on this: First, make snide remarks about President Bush, then insist that Obama is so sophisticated that he doesn't need experts to brief him:
When I asked National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor if the president had attended any meetings to discuss the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) since Sept. 5, he repeatedly refused to answer. He noted that Obama had attended a principals meeting of the National Security Council on Sept. 10 and reiterated that he reads the PDB. “As I’ve told you every time you ask, the President gets his PDB every day,” Vietor told me by e-mail, adding this swipe at Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush: “Unlike your former boss, he has it delivered to his residence in the morning and not briefed to him.” (This new line of defense was echoed this morning by my Post colleague, Dana Milbank, who writes that Bush was briefed every day by his intelligence advisers because he “decided he would prefer to read less.”) Vietor’s reply is quite revealing. It is apparently a point of pride in the White House that Obama’s PDB is “not briefed to him.” In the eyes of this administration, it is a virtue that the president does not meet every day with senior intelligence officials. This president, you see, does not need briefers. He can forgo his daily intelligence meeting because he is, in Vietor’s words, “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.”
Truly sophisticated consumers of intelligence don’t see it as a sign of weakness to “be briefed” by the experts. Most of us, if we subscribed to a daily report on, say, astrophysics, would probably need some help interpreting it. But when it comes to intelligence, Obama is apparently so brilliant he can absorb the most complicated topics by himself in his study. He does not need to sit down for up to an hour a day with top intelligence officials, or hold more than 100 “deep dives” in which he invites CIA analysts into the Oval Office and gives them direct access to the commander in chief to discuss their areas of expertise. Such meetings are crutches this president does not need ... Obama has more important things to do — such as attend Las Vegas fundraisers.
Let's play along with Mr. Vietor and assume for a moment that Obama really is an unprecedented intelligence savant. Given his frenetic schedule of crucial appointments, might one be forgiven for wondering if Obama truly reads his full intelligence packet each morning? Perhaps he just missed a handful of unimportant items, like the fact that the US did not beef up security at our Benghazi consulate after an IED attack in June. Our State Department merely asked the Libyan secuirty forces (elements of which now appear to have been colluding with the enemy) to step up their game. And check out this exchange from a press briefing after the initial failed attack:
QUESTION: But do you have any concern that this may be – may bode very ill for the future security of Libya? I mean, there seems to be a breakdown in security on all levels.
MR. TONER: On the contrary. As I said, our local guard force acted in exemplary fashion. We believe they were very vigilant in seeing this attack as it was taking place and sounding a warning for our mission staff to seek cover. And as I said, we’ve requested additional security. As to whether this bodes ill or well for – on a larger scale, clearly Libya is in transition. It’s grappling with many different issues, important issues right now. Security is a concern, but one we’re addressing, working productively with the Libyan Government.
Was the president also aware that the Marines who -- unlike in Benghazi -- are protecting our embassy in Cairo were reportedly forbidden from carrying live ammunition by our Ambassador there?
U.S. Marines defending the American embassy in Egypt were not permitted by the State Department to carry live ammunition, limiting their ability to respond to attacks like those this week on the U.S. consulate in Cairo. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson “did not permit U.S. Marine guards to carry live ammunition,” according to multiple reports on U.S. Marine Corps blogs spotted by Nightwatch. “She neutralized any U.S. military capability that was dedicated to preserve her life and protect the US Embassy.” U.S. officials have yet to confirm or comment on the reports. Time magazine’s Battleland blog reported Thursday “Senior U.S. officials late Wednesday declined to discuss in detail the security at either Cairo or Benghazi, so answers may be slow in coming.”
Oh, I'm confident The One was up to speed on all of this stuff. Aren't you? He is, after all, "among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet." Who needs expert briefers?
UPDATE - As Carol notes, the White House has walked back and cleaned up Obama's "ally" remarks about Egypt. Who "shoots first and aims later," again? Over to you, Mitt Romney: "The world needs American leadership."
UPDATE II - Here's something you don't see every day: The State Department in damage control mode, contradicting the president: