We already heard that the Obama administration had intercepts linking one of the suspected leaders of the Benghazi attack to al-Qaeda on day one, but the extent of the intelligence wasn’t clear. Now Reuters adds another piece to the puzzle, reporting that the Obama administration received about a dozen intelligence reports tying the attack to AQ “within hours”:
Within hours of last month’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama’s administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.
Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.
It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had “evolved” into an acknowledgement that the attacks were “deliberate and organized” and “carried out by extremists.”
No wonder Clapper didn’t put his own name on last week’s statement, letting his press guy take the hit instead. A dozen intelligence reports pointing to al-Qaeda within 24 hours of the attack is not a narrative that “evolved.” If the administration didn’t want to get into the details of the attack until more information came in, that would have been understandable. But that’s different from them spending nearly two weeks blaming the attack on a protest over an anti-Islam video that they knew didn’t cause it.
It also raises another issue. If the administration had a dozen immediate reports of al-Qaeda involvement, then obviously the scapegoats in the intelligence community were not responsible for the changing narrative. Did the White House put pressure on intelligence officials to provide knowingly false conclusions to Congress and the public in the days following the attack? And what exactly would the implications of that be?