It took a long time for the Obama administration to admit an Al Qaeda link to the attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11, but according to a new report in The Daily Beast, U.S. intelligence officials knew al Qaeda was involved within a day of the attacks. Not only that, but they also knew the attack was planned, instead of some sort of spontaneous assault, as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on This Week six days after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed along with three others. Eli Lake has the details:
Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya ... They said U.S. intelligence agencies developed leads on four of the participants of the attacks within 24 hours of the fire fight that took place mainly at an annex near the Benghazi consulate.
For one of those individuals, the U.S. agencies were able to find his location after his use of social media. “We had two kinds of intelligence on one guy,” this official said. “We believe we had enough to target him.” Another U.S. intelligence official said, “There was very good information on this in the first 24 hours. These guys have a return address. There are camps of people and a wide variety of things we could do.”
The remark by Rice wasn't just an offhand comment to ABC News' Jake Tapper. That Sunday, she also told Fox News Sunday the attack "was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent." And it contradicted statements by Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf who said there was "no doubt" it was a planned terrorist attack, and other reports that there was no demonstration in front of the U.S. compound prior to the attack.
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Why does this matter? As reporters and critics such as BuzzFeed's Michael Hastings and Reason's Nick Gillespie have pointed out, blaming the incident on a spontaneous outburst of rage based on an anti-Islam movie distracts from questions about security at U.S. embassies and consulates, the security situation in Libya in general, or disenchantment with American foreign policy in the region. Of course, the administration could have another reasons for giving "evolving" accounts of what happened, but at this point, it's not clear what the reason is—and reporters aren't the only ones upset about the lack of clarity. The Hill's Jeremy Herb reports that eight House GOP committee chairmen are demanding a new briefing "as soon as possible" on the Benghazi attack. "The eight lawmakers scolded the administration for its account of the attack, saying in a letter to President Obama that they were 'disturbed' by statements indicating the attack evolved out of a protest of an anti-Islamic film," he reports. The ball appears to be in the administration's court.