UPDATE: The White House responded to the emails Wednesday, with press secretary Jay Carney saying "there was a variety of information coming in."
White House and State Department officials were informed just two hours after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 began that a radical Islamic militant group had claimed responsibility, according to official emails obtained by Reuters.
The emails, reportedly put out by the State Department, specifically mention that the Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia had taken credit for the attack almost immediately and called for additional terrorist acts.
The correspondence provides a glimpse into how U.S. diplomats described the fiery assault, as it was happening, to officials in Washington, D.C.
The terrorist attack claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALs and a State Department official. It took the Obama administration nearly two weeks to completely rule out an anti-Muslim video as the cause of the attack.
Numerous Obama administration officials, including White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even Obama himself, went on TV at different times and told millions of American citizens that the attacks were due to a spontaneous protest sparked by the video. Now it has been uncovered that the administration knew within hours that a terrorist group had proudly admitted they attacked the U.S. compound.
Reuters has the details on the emails sent to the various Obama administration officials:
The first email, timed at 4:05 p.m. Washington time - or 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time, 20-30 minutes after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission allegedly began - carried the subject line "U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack" and the notation "SBU", meaning "Sensitive But Unclassified."
The text said the State Department's regional security office had reported that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was "under attack. Embassy in Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well."
A second email, headed "Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi" and timed 4:54 p.m. Washington time, said that the Embassy in Tripoli had reported that "the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi had stopped and the compound had been cleared." It said a "response team" was at the site attempting to locate missing personnel.
A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: "Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack."
The message reported: "Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli."
Here are images of the emails courtesy of CBS News:
Watch CBS News' report:
Fox News reports that the emails were sent to a "variety of national security platforms, whose addresses have been redacted, including the White House Situation Room, the Pentagon, the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence."
Additionally, sources told Fox News that around 300 to 400 national security officials received the emails "in real time." The officials on the email recipient list work under the nation's top national security, military and diplomatic officials, according to sources.
The revelation, if confirmed to be legitimate, also calls into question why President Obama decided to take off on campaign trip to Las Vegas if his State Department the day before informed his national security team that a group of radical Islamic terrorists was claiming responsibility for killing four Americans.
The other question that demands answering is whether the U.S. military could have intervened if the White House knew two hours after the seven hour attack began that a terrorist group was overwhelming the U.S. Consulate, putting the lives of Americans in danger.
CBS News has been told that, hours after the attack began, an unmanned Predator drone was sent over the U.S. mission in Benghazi, and that the drone and other reconnaissance aircraft apparently observed the final hours of the protracted battle.
The State Department, White House and Pentagon declined to say what military options were available. A White House official told CBS News that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies.”
But it was too late to help the Americans in Benghazi. The ambassador and three others were dead.
No word from the Obama administration on the emails. See the White House's response here.
This story has been updated with additional information.