Republican lawmakers expressed outrage on Friday after it was revealed that President Barack Obama’s administration had information shortly after the attack that indicated that militants, not protesters angry about an anti-Muslim YouTube video, launched the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials told The Associated Press. But for nearly two weeks, the Obama administration blamed the assault on a corny low-budget video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The report from the station chief was written late Wednesday, Sept. 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said. It is not clear how widely the information from the CIA station chief was circulated.
U.S. intelligence officials have said the information was just one of many widely conflicting accounts, which became clearer by the following week.
It was also revealed on Friday that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had concerns about security and al-Qaeda prior to the attack. Fox News reports:
Across 166 pages of internal State Department documents — released Friday by a pair of Republican congressmen pressing the Obama administration for more answers on the Benghazi terrorist attack — slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and the security officers assigned to protect him repeatedly sounded alarms to their superiors in Washington about the intensifying lawlessness and violence in Eastern Libya, where Stevens ultimately died.
On Sept. 11 — the day Stevens and three other Americans were killed — the ambassador signed a three-page cable, labeled “sensitive,” in which he noted “growing problems with security” in Benghazi and “growing frustration” on the part of local residents with Libyan police and security forces. These forces the ambassador characterized as “too weak to keep the country secure.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, led Friday’s charge.
“Look around the world, turn on your TV,” Ryan said in an interview with WTAQ radio in the election battleground state of Wisconsin. “And what we see in front of us is the absolute unraveling of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says the disaster in Libya and throughout the Middle East are a direct result of Obama’s failed foreign policy. Meanwhile, Obama focuses on his signature national security accomplishment, which is the military’s killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Ryan was teeing up the issue for Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy.
“I’m excited we’re going to have a chance to talk about that on Monday,” Ryan said.
Congress is asking the administration for documents about the attack, in hopes of building a timeline of what the government knew and when.
“The early sense from the intelligence community differs from what we are hearing now,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said. “It ended up being pretty far afield, so we want to figure out why.”
Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, a member of the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, said: “How could they be so certain immediately after such events, I just don’t know. That raises suspicions that there was political motivation.”
Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter directly to President Obama on Friday regarding the Benghazi attack and the administration’s actions following the assault:
“Information supplied to the committee by senior officials demonstrates that not only did the administration repeatedly reject requests for increased security despite escalating violence, but it also systematically decreased existing security to dangerous and ineffective levels. We have been told repeatedly that the administration did this to effectuate a policy of ‘normalization’ in Libya after the conclusion of its civil war. These actions not only resulted in extreme vulnerability, but also undermined Ambassador Stevens and the diplomatic mission.”
“Americans also deserve a complete explanation about your administration’s decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering American lives. These critical foreign policy decisions are not made by low or mid-level career officials – they are typically made through a structured and well-reasoned process that includes the National Security Council at the White House.”
Obama, speaking Thursday on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” insisted that information was shared with the American people as it came in. The attack is under investigation, Obama said, and “the picture eventually gets filled in.”
Obama also explained that “if four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.” The president was also criticized for that remark.
“What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up,” Obama said. “And you make sure that you find out what’s broken and you fix it.”
Democrats have spent the past week explaining the administration’s handling of the attack. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a period of uncertainty typically follows attacks.
“In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion,” Clinton said. “And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had.”
On Tuesday, Obama and Romney argued over when the president first called it a terrorist attack. In his Rose Garden address the morning after the killings, Obama said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
But Republicans said he was speaking generally and didn’t specifically call the Benghazi event a terror attack until weeks later. Until then, key members of the administration were blaming an anti-Muslim movie circulating on the Internet as a precipitating event.
This Wednesday, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., put the blame on the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
“I think what happened was the director of intelligence, who is a very good individual, put out some speaking points on the initial intelligence assessment,” Feinstein said in an interview with news channel CBS 5 in California. “I think that was possibly a mistake.”
Obama has weathered similar criticisms before. After both the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010, the Obama administration initially said there were no indications of wider terrorist plots. The Christmas Day bomber turned out to be linked to al-Qaida and the Times Square bomber was trained by the Pakistani Taliban.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.