Emails among State Department officials show the administration was in contact with Google regarding a blocked YouTube video after President Obama conceded that the Benghazi attack was a preplanned act of terror.
On Sept. 27, 2012, Nora Toiv, a special assistant to the counselor of the Department, sent an email to other State Department officials with the subject line “RE: Google and YouTube.” The email referenced a phone conversation with a person named Sue who assured Toiv a block would remain on an unnamed video at least through Oct. 1, 2012. “Sue just called back and the block will stay through Monday,” Toiv said in the email. “They will not/not be unblocking it before then.”
Toiv’s message, sent at 1:35 pm, was in response to an email sent an hour earlier by Denis McDonough, current White House Chief of Staff who was then the Deputy National Security Adviser. McDonough’s email appears to contain the mobile and office phone numbers of Google CEO Larry Page and YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar. The numbers have been redacted in the copies made available to the public.
Although the emails do not name the video that is being blocked, much of the controversy following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, centered on a YouTube video called The Innocence of Muslims. Hillary Clinton and other State Department and White House officials blamed the Benghazi attack on the video but later backed off the claim.
Radical Islamists in several countries did organize protests over the video, among other issues, including a large demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, that occurred on the same day as the Benghazi attack.
In her first public remarks after the Benghazi attacks, Hillary Clinton addressed the video. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” she said. “Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”
Charles Woods, father of Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods who was killed in Benghazi, said in an interview with Glenn Beck that Hillary Clinton promised to arrest and prosecute the person responsible for making The Innocence of Muslims at a memorial for his son. That man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was later arrested and prosecuted in connection to producing the video. The Obama administration bought $70,000 of ads on Pakistani television featuring clips of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton disavowing the video.
In the days after the attacks the White House requested Google remove The Innocence of Muslims under YouTube’s policy against hosting hate speech. Google refused to do so, according to the New York Times. The emails from Toiv and McDonough show the State Department was still in contact with Google well after the White House’s request.
Although Google refused to remove the video from YouTube it did block it for residents of numerous Middle Eastern countries in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. “This video—which is widely available on the Web—is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube,” YouTube told CNN. “However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”
It is unclear if or when Google lifted those blocks on viewing in those countries. However, YouTube remains banned by local governments in several countries including Pakistan.
The emails show the State Department was still concerned about the video after the president declared the attacks in Benghazi were preplanned. “It was a preplanned act of terrorism directed against American citizens,” President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2012, two days before the email exchange between McDonough and Toiv.
The State Department declined to comment on the content of the video. “I cannot offer further context on that specific email,” Alec Gerlach, a State Department communications adviser, told the Washington Free Beacon. “But if you’re asking about the Innocence of Muslims video, this has been addressed by the Administration.”
Gerlach then directed the Free Beacon to a May 1st, 2014, press conference by then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
“What we know is that there was an attack, that there were extremists involved, and four Americans were killed,” Carney said in the briefing. “We have been saying that from the beginning. Again, if you look at the language provided at the time by the IC to members of Congress and the White House, that’s what Ambassador Rice stuck to.”
“And as I said and others, it was based on what we believed to be true at the time, and they were caveating all the time about the fact more information might become available, more details might become available, and as they did there would be more information to provide.”
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Google did not respond to requests for comment.