The Sept. 11 assault by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
It will likely claim some career casualties next.
It could even end the public ambitions of Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Michael Morell, acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Benghazi controversy might also inflict political damage on the Republican Party. Some Democrats are accusing GOP critics, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, of unfairly attacking Amb. Rice.
Sixth District Rep. James Clyburn has even gone so far as to suggest that the term “incompetent,” as used in senators’ criticism of the ambassador, was a racial “code word.”
Yet Ms. Rice did play a misleading political role when she appeared on five national news broadcasts on Sept. 16 to say the Benghazi incident was a spontaneous protest in reaction to an anti-Muslim video.
The only question is whether or not she did so intentionally.
But either way, that performance seriously undermines her credibility as a potential secretary of state.
The Benghazi attack came on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States and just five days after President Obama had declared, at the Democratic National Convention, “Al-Qaida is on the path to defeat.”
But in the days following Amb. Rice’s Sept. 16 assertions about those supposedly spontaneous protests, it was revealed that government emails on the day of the Benghazi attack told the White House (and possibly Amb. Rice herself) that the attack employed military weapons. The emails also indicated that a terrorist group had claimed credit for the assault.
Last week, Amb. Rice conceded that her public statements on Sept. 16 were “incorrect” and that “there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.” But, she said, she was just following the script given her by the intelligence community.
What has followed has all the charm of a shell game as intelligence officials stumbled over each other to avoid claiming credit for rewriting the talking points to eliminate references to terror and al-Qaida, and to substitute the word “demonstration” for the word “attack.”
At first the changes were attributed to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But Mr. Clapper and now-Acting CIA Director Morell denied having made any changes.
Mr. Morell told senators the changes had been inserted by the FBI. Then another CIA official said, no, the CIA had made the changes — even though Gen. David Petraeus, who was agency director at the time, has testified that the report he sent forward spoke of terrorists and al-Qaida.
The reason given for the changes — that they were made to avoid tipping off the terrorists — is simply ludicrous in light of the fact that one of the terror groups claimed responsibility on the day of the attack.
All of this has diverted attention from the real security lapses that led to the Benghazi tragedy — including repeated failures to enhance the protection of U.S. personnel despite requests for such help.
The White House seems to hope that Republicans will wear themselves out in a futile search for the source of the misleading talking points.
But there will be, as President Obama described ongoing Mideast turmoil in September, “bumps in the road.”
It is doubtful that Amb. Rice will realize her ambition to be the next secretary of state.
Mr. Morell is not likely to be nominated to be the next director of the CIA.
Beyond those individual outcomes, however, lie far more important collective concerns about what went so terribly wrong in Benghazi.
Sen. Graham and his colleagues should persist in their efforts until they get to the truth.