In March, an investigation by ProPublica and Gawker revealed that a “ secret spy network” that was not on the State Department payroll, run by longtime Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, was “funneling intelligence about the crisis in Libya directly to the Secretary of State’s private account starting before the Benghazi attack.” Now the WEEKLY STANDARD has learned that Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service in Europe who was working directly with Blumenthal as a member of Clinton’s spy network, was concurrently working as a consultant to CBS News and its venerable news program 60 Minutes.
According to WEEKLY STANDARD sources, Drumheller was active in shaping the network’s Benghazi coverage. His role at the network raises questions about what went wrong with the retracted 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that aired in October 2013. Despite his former life as a high ranking CIA official, Drumheller was laden with political baggage, making him a curious choice to be consulting with a major news operation—especially so given that he was working directly with Sidney Blumenthal, whose primary occupation appears to be manipulating media coverage on behalf of the Clintons.
CBS does not deny that Drumheller was working with the network, though a CBS spokesman would only say, "Tyler Drumheller was not involved in any way on the Benghazi story." CBS was also asked if the network understood he was helping Blumenthal prepare reports on Libya for Secretary of State Clinton at the same time he was working with the network. Additionally, THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked CBS to clarify if Drumheller otherwise involved in the network's coverage sensitive national security issues while he was also apparently working on Hillary Clinton's behalf. Finally, CBS News was asked if they had done any internal review to determine whether Drumheller had influenced coverage in a way that may have unfairly benefited Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, since the public revelation of his conflict of interest. CBS did not clarify whether their statement that Drumheller was not involved "on the Benghazi story" referred specifically to the controversial Lara Logan report for 60 Minutes or CBS's coverage of the Benghazi scandal generally. The network was given an opportunity to address these specific questions and actively declined to expand on their terse statement.
Drumheller left the CIA in 2005, and he quickly became a darling of the left. On departing the agency, he told a congressional committee that he knew sources the CIA were relying on to document the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were flawed. He later wrote a book portraying himself as a crusader within the CIA who tried, to no avail, to warn his supervisors that the case for war in Iraq was badly flawed. He also became a source for journalists critical of the Iraq war, including the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. In 2006, 60 Minutes broadcast a favorable profile of Drumheller, titled “A Spy Speaks Out.” From there, Drumheller’s relationship with CBS News developed into a professional arrangement.
From the beginning, there were rumblings that Drumheller’s account of what happened leading up to the Iraq war was self-serving and inaccurate. In 2007, former CIA director George Tenet—who headed the agency under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—published a memoir, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. Tenet took several pages of the book to attack Drumheller’s claims in detail, explicitly questioning his honesty and even citing the recollections of other agency employees to poke glaring holes in Drumheller’s recounting of events.
How Drumheller came to work for Blumenthal isn’t known, but the longtime Clinton aide has acquired a reputation for both dishonesty and unswerving loyalty to the Clintons. Blumenthal was known for his especially vicious attacks on Monica Lewinsky in the press, and later would play hatchetman in the 2008 Democratic primary. A 2008 article in the Huffington Post detailed how Blumenthal blasted out “virulent” hit pieces about Barack Obama even when they came from “extreme right-wing websites.” According to a professor who was the recipient of these missives, Blumenthal “on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers—including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers—in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic party funders and activists.” Hillary Clinton later tried to hire Blumenthal at the State Department, but his attacks on Obama were considered so out of bounds that top Obama aides Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod balked at the suggestion, according to a Politico report.
Instead, the former journalist went to work elsewhere aggressively shaping coverage of Clinton scandals. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Blumenthal was employed by “the Clinton Foundation, to help with research [and] ‘message guidance’” and during the same time period “he also worked on and off as a paid consultant to Media Matters and American Bridge, organizations that helped lay the groundwork for Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.” Politico further reported that “a network of groups founded by Clinton enforcer [and Media Matters founder] David Brock … paid Blumenthal more than $10,000 a month as they defended Hillary Clinton against conservative attacks.” For someone such as Blumenthal, who was being paid to put the best spin on Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued tenure as Secretary of State, a close relationship with a national security and intelligence consultant at one of America’s most influential news organizations would be an invaluable asset. How Drumheller was rewarded for working with Blumenthal is unknown, but emails show he was producing intelligence reports on Libya and other trouble spots that Blumenthal was passing on to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Drumheller was also working with Blumenthal to coordinate on the ground operations with a private security outfit being paid to gather intelligence on terrorist hotspots such as Tunisia. According to emails obtained by ProPublica, Drumheller was the go-between for Blumenthal and Osprey Global Solutions, a firm run by David L. Grange, a retired major general with a background in special ops.
As for his role at CBS News, CBS's statement that their prominent intelligence consultant wasn't involved in consulting in their coverage of the biggest intelligence story in years is curious. Multiple WEEKLY STANDARD sources told us that Drumheller played an active role in shaping the most controversial CBS News report since Rathergate, correspondent Lara Logan’s now retracted 60 Minutes report on Benghazi. The report focused on the story of “Morgan Jones” (whose real name was Dylan Davies), a military contractor who was allegedly present for the attack on Benghazi. Jones’s account told a tale of fighting bravely and vainly to rescue the men in the embassy under attack, and reinforced the narrative that the U.S. government could have done more to save the men who died that night. However, after 60 Minutes’s Benghazi report aired on October 27, 2013, it soon emerged that Davies’s story did not match up with State Department reports or the account of his actions that night he gave to his employer, private security firm Blue Mountain Group. Lara Logan eventually took responsibility for the erroneous report, and 60 Minutes went so far as to request Nexis remove the transcript of the broadcast. Davies’s book was scrapped, and he has disappeared from the public eye. After the report, Logan took a seven-month leave of absence from CBS.
However, what seems like a serious but straightforward failure to do basic fact checking is complicated by claims Drumheller was consulting on the report. The popular consensus about what went wrong was crystallized in May of last year by a 6,500 word New York magazine article, “ Benghazi and the Bombshell: Is Lara Logan too toxic to return to 60 Minutes?," about Logan’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall in the wake of the flawed report. There were two primary factors blamed for the flawed report making it on air. One, Lara Logan was perceived by her colleagues as being both too hard charging and too credulous of military sources. And two, 60 Minutes didn’t vet the story properly because they picked up on Davies’s story after it had been already packaged by a conservative publishing imprint owned by CBS’s parent company. The New York article characterizes how the report was put together this way:
The two key facts here are that Logan and 60 Minutes had been working on a Benghazi report for six months prior to abruptly making the focus of the report Dylan Davies, and that fact-checking procedures were ignored and no calls were made to the State Department or FBI to vet the claims.
According to WEEKLY STANDARD sources, the initial focus of 60 Minutes’s Benghazi report was al Qaeda’s role in the attack. While even in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2012 attack, al Qaeda’s role was obvious, the Obama administration played fast and loose with the fact the terror organization was behind the attack. By the time Logan began working on her Benghazi report, CBS News had already engendered a good deal of controversy for its reporting on this matter. Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson pointed the finger at her former network for helping the Obama administration obfuscate on this point; the day after Benghazi attack, in an interview with 60 Minutes’s Steve Kroft, President Obama said it was “too early to know” whether the attack was terrorism. As the election neared, whether or not Obama had called the attack terrorism emerged as a major election issue with Republican candidate Mitt Romney attacking Obama for failing to label Benghazi a terror attack for 14 days, and the issue became a flashpoint during the second presidential debate.
Despite the fact the interview would have been especially newsworthy, CBS didn’t show the clip, and only leaked a transcript of Kroft’s interview days before the election. Attkisson further reports that 60 Minutes emailed the transcript of Kroft’s Obama interview to CBS News’s New York headquarters the day it took place. And yet, CBS reporters were later directed to use soundbites suggesting Obama promptly labeled Benghazi a terror attack. Attkisson later confronted CBS News president David Rhodes, the brother of White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, who told her an internal investigation would be done to figure out why CBS sat on such an explosive bit of news. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple agreed with Attkisson that it was an “awful episode” that did not reflect well on CBS News.
Right on the the heels of this controversy, Logan began to put together her own report focusing on why the central fact that al Qaeda was behind the attack had been obscured. Based on the account of a source with knowledge of how the report came together, like Attkisson before her, Logan soon found institutional resistance to the angle she was taking on Benghazi which made the Obama administration and Clinton State Department look like they may have intentionally downplayed al Qaeda’s involvement in Benghazi for political gain -- and some of that resistance came from Drumheller, who was “instrumental in poo-pooing the Lara Logan Benghazi story,” according to the source. Even after the report was refocused to be primarily about Dylan Davies, the report still staked out a strong claim about al Qaeda’s involvement and the perceived disingenuousness of the Obama administration response. In the report that eventually aired, Logan declared, “Contrary to the White House’s public statements, which were still being made a full week later, it’s now well-established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaeda in a well-planned assault.”
While that statement from the now-retracted report is unquestionably accurate, even more than a year after the Benghazi attack the Clinton State Department was still fighting hard to shape public perception of the tragic event. Again, emails in the spring of 2013 show Drumheller was reporting to Sidney Blumenthal and providing information that went directly to Hillary Clinton -- the same time he would have been likely involved in consulting with 60 Minutes and helping shape Logan’s report.
Outwardly, it appears Clintonworld was invested in the Benghazi media narrative well through 2013 and had been largely successful at minimizing the blame directed at the State Department. (State Department officials also appear to have been sources for the New York magazine piece on Lara Logan.) For a long time the media seemed to be spinning a narrative favorable to the Obama administration. On December 28, 2013 -- just two months after Logan’s report aired -- the New York Times would declare that “months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” The Times’s December report, along with the discrediting of Logan’s report that dominated the news in November, would be used as a powerful cudgel against those critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi. (A year later in November 2014, the House Intelligence Committee would release a report confirming al Qaeda's involvement in the Benghazi attack, and the New York Times quietly altered its coverage to accept this fact.) In that context, a 60 Minutes report undercutting this wrongly accepted version of events had to be perceived as politically threatening to the guardians of Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
The other issue is the fact checking failures associated with the report. According to a source with extensive knowledge of CBS News operations, of all the senior figures at CBS News and 60 Minutes, Drumheller had a “close relationship” with Bill Owens who was charged with fact checking the story. While New York notes that 60 Minutes made “no calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies’s claims,” based on the publicly available emails it would appear that CBS News’s intelligence consultant should have had no problems getting information from the highest levels of the State Department.
Finally, Media Matters -- which again, was helping to pay Blumenthal’s salary -- was quite aggressive in pushing back against the report after it initially aired. The New York Times singled out the organization led by David Brock and closely associated with the Clintons as the leading voice demanding 60 Minutes correct its report. While tenaciously defending the Clintons is much of what Media Matters does, their aggressive posture does raise questions about whether they had advance knowledge of problems with 60 Minutes’s report.
Earlier this summer, the House Benghazi committee grilled Blumenthal over his work with organizations with ties to the Clintons. Still, comparatively little is known publicly about Blumenthal, Drumheller and their “spy network” -- a task that is further complicated by Drumheller's death last month. To what extent they may have manipulated media coverage of the Benghazi scandal in order to obscure the truth and discredit critics of Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State is unknown, but Drumheller’s role at CBS raises very disturbing questions, starting with how much Hillary Clinton herself knew about what Blumenthal and Drumheller were up to. Finally, CBS News owes viewers a full accounting of the questionable decision making process behind its Benghazi coverage and whether Drumheller may have been in a position to sway its coverage of this and other politically sensitive issues.