Benghazi: Early Briefings Pointed to Al Qaeda, Not a Protest
Fox's Catherine Herridge reports that the early government briefings to Congress on Benghazi pointed out evidence of al Qaeda's involvement. But for some reason, the story changed over the next couple of days.
Two days after the deadly Libya terror attack, representatives of the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center gave Capitol Hill briefings in which they said the evidence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack, Fox News has learned.
The description of the attack by those in the Sept. 13 briefings stands in stark contrast to the now controversial briefing on Capitol Hill by CIA Director David Petraeus the following day -- and raises even more questions about why Petraeus described the attack as tied to a demonstration.
The Sept. 13 assessment was based on intercepts that included individuals, believed to have participated in the attack, who were celebratory -- as well as a claim of responsibility.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described using that information to say that terrorists mounted the attack as "cherry picking" last week.
Fox News is told that the Petraeus briefing on Sept. 14 conflicted with that of the FBI and NCTC.
On Capitol Hill, Petraeus characterized the attack as more consistent with a flash mob, where the militants showed up spontaneously with RPGs. Petraeus downplayed to lawmakers the skill needed to fire mortars, which also were used in the attack and to some were seen as evidence of significant pre-planning. As Fox News previously reported, four mortars were fired -- two missed the annex, but the mortar team re-calibrated and the next two mortars were direct hits.
There's a blank to fill in here -- the CIA's men were painting the mortar with a laser, in the expectation that US aircraft would take it out. That implies, as Bob Owens wrote last week, that the US had an AC-130U gunship overhead.
Fox News is told that Petraeus seemed wedded to the narrative that the attack was linked to a demonstration and was spontaneous as opposed to pre-meditated.
There's a blank to be filled in here t00 -- Gen. Petraeus has been known to crack down on US free speech rights if Muslim outrage is a possible result from Americans speaking freely. He criticized Rev. Terry Jones when the obscure pastor was set to burn a Koran on video, out of fear that Muslims would riot. Jones got a call from the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs this time around, urging the preacher not to support the obscure YouTube Petraeus was apparently blaming for the attacking in Benghazi.
Fox News is told that Petraeus was "absolute" in his description with few, if any, caveats. As lawmakers learned more about the attack, including through raw intelligence reports, they were "angry, disappointed and frustrated" that the CIA director had not provided a more complete picture of the available intelligence.
All of this sounds like Petraeus may be being thrown under the bus. Last week, Petraeus may have thrown Obama under the bus with the CIA statement that no one within the CIA denied any requests from the American agents who requested help during the battle and were killed. That statement can be read as the CIA saying, in essence, talk to Obama about denying help because we had no command authority.
So with that in mind, there is pushback in favor of Petraeus.
A U.S. intelligence official disputed the characterization of Petraeus' briefing to lawmakers on Sept. 14, saying: "The first briefing (to the Hill) carefully laid out the full range of sparsely available information, with briefers noting that extremists -- including those with possible links to AQIM and Ansar al-Sharia -- were involved in attacks that appeared spontaneous. The talking points (from that weekend) clearly reflect the early indications of extremist involvement in a direct assault."
As for the current assessment of the Benghazi attack, a U.S. intelligence official said no one is ruling out the idea militants may have aspired to attack the U.S., though the bulk of available information supports the early assessment that extremists -- with ties to al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia -- did not plan the attacks for day or weeks in advance.
One source who heard Petraeus brief also told Fox News, "I can confirm that he explicitly stated both to the House and the Senate oversight committees that members of AQIM and AAS participated in the attack in Benghazi. That assessment still stands."
One thing would be helpful in sorting all this out: Names. Who is saying what here? If Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Petraeus it could say something different than if Republican lawmakers are lodging the criticism.
In any case, the dates here are key. The attack occurred on 9-11. On 9-12, Obama suggested in that buried CBS clip that Benghazi was a terrorist attack while in his Rose Garden remarks, he blamed the movie. Then he went to Vegas for his fundraiser. On 9-14, Secretary of State Clinton explicitly blamed the movie, during the transfer of remains ceremony. Petraeus' briefing on 9-14 could be, depending on how you view it, vague enough to have been used to blame the movie due to confusion or something like that, or it could the green light that the political officers on the Obama administration/campaign seized on to blame the movie in order to preserve the talking point that al Qaeda is "on the run" after the death of bin Laden.
The administration's two-week campaign to sell the movie doesn't suggest an innocent explanation. By the 14th, the administration may have already started to determine that the agents died requesting help that was never given for whatever reason, and determined to cover that up. Or, the killing of Stevens itself exposed something that the administration did not want exposed, such as the rumored gun-running operation to jihadist rebels in Syria.
The gun-running itself is a fact, at least according to the New York Times. The question is, did the administration know it was running guns to al Qaeda? Petraeus' personal involvement in both the movie tale and the gun-running operation itself (he traveled to Turkey to oversee it) only leads to more questions than answers.