Though I am in no way a fan of President Obama’s foreign and security policies, the flailing that the Republican Party is engaging in at the moment to demonstrate some kind of cover-up in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack reveals a complete lack of understanding of how intelligence collection and analysis works. David Ignatius explores the subject in an op-ed, “CIA documents supported Susan Rice’s description of Benghazi attacks.”

Ignatius observes that intelligence is developed when something happens and that evidence is frequently “fragmentary and conflicting.” While there may be such a thing as incontrovertible facts relating to any incident, that solid information is something that frequently cannot be easily discerned. Ignatius notes that Republicans have been beating Obama over the head most recently with the assertion that there was a CIA Station Chief cable the day after the killing of the ambassador that indicated that the attack had been planned and organized by a militant group. But I would bet that there were at least 15 other reports that went out the same day that provided alternative scenarios. If you intercept a cell phone call in which someone is claiming credit for organizing an attack, is he speaking the truth or is he boasting and trying to take credit for some reason or other? If a source in a militia is claiming that he knows who ordered the attack, does he have an agenda that is driving his claim? All of that has to be sorted out, which takes time and cross checking. At the present time, it does appear that the “Innocence of Muslims” video did play a role in the attack and the contention that it was a fully-orchestrated al-Qaeda event seems unlikely.

I was in Rome Station when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was occupied. The CIA went on full alert worldwide and we followed suit. I rather suspect that every Iranian official or businessman in Italy that we could get our hands on was interviewed three times. The reports went in to Washington, together with thousands of others. While the effort sounds silly in retrospect, I do recall that there were some Iranians in Rome who had significant information on the students who had led the takeover. My point is that intelligence is a complicated process and cherry picking raw intelligence reports relating to a developing situation might well produce whatever you want to find, but it will not necessarily reveal the truth.