October 3, 2012 - 10:13 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - 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, according to Reuters.
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."
The existence of the early reports appears to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration's public messaging about the attack as it seeks to fend off Republican charges that the White House failed to prevent a terrorist strike that left a U.S. ambassador and three others dead.
"What we're seeing now is the picture starting to develop that it wasn't a problem with the intelligence that was given, it's what they did with the intelligence that they were given," Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday.
"This picture is still a little fuzzy but it is starting to come into focus and it appears that there were, very early on, some indications that there was jihadist participation in the event," he said.
The stream of intelligence flowing into Washington within hours of the Benghazi attacks contained data from communications intercepts and U.S. informants, which were then fashioned into polished initial assessments for policymakers.
Officials familiar with them said they contained evidence that members of a militant faction, Ansar al-Sharia, as well as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, were involved in the assaults.
The report did not allege the attacks were a reaction to the anti-Muslim film, but acknowledged it was possible that the attackers sought to use an outbreak of violence in Cairo over the film, which insulted the Prophet Mohammad, as a pretext for attacks.
One official said initial reporting suggested militants had begun planning attacks on U.S. targets in Benghazi before September 11, but may well have decided to use the protests as a pretext for moving forward that day.