Senior administration officials provided a timeline of what unfolded inside the Benghazi diplomatic mission:
4p ET (10p in Libya)
The U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists.
The attackers accessed the compound and fired into the main building setting it on fire. The Libyan guard force and mission security responded. Three people are inside the building: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and a regional security officer. Trying to evacuate, the three became separated because of the heavy smoke. The regional security officer made it outside of the building and then he and other security personnel returned into the burning building in an attempt to rescue Stevens and Smith. They found Smith dead and pulled him from the building. They were unable to locate the ambassador before being driven outside of the building again because of the fire and smoke.
US security personnel assigned to the nearby mission annex tried to regain control of the main building but took heavy fire and had to retreat.
From Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon Correspondent
Two US Navy warships are moving towards the coast of Libya, two US officials tell CNN. The destroyers are the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul. Both ships are equipped with tomahawk missiles that could be used if a strike was ordered. Tomahawks are satellite-guided cruise missiles that can be programmed to hit specific targets.
"These ships will give the administration flexibility," a senior official said, if the administration orders action against targets in Libya.
The USS Laboon was making a port call in Crete, a few hours from Libya, when it was ordered to reposition. The USS McFaul was outside the Strait of Gibraltar, a few days sail from Libya, and is headed to the Libyan coast.
The US Navy typically keeps up to four Aegis-equipped missile warships ships in the eastern Mediterranean to aid in defending Israel and missile defense for southern Europe. The McFaul and Laboon were part of that deployment.
By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Some US troops and units stationed outside the US have been notified they could be called upon in the coming days to move to embassy installations around the world to provide additional security, a senior US military official confirms to CNN. He declined to offer specific details including the number of troops or types of units involved due to security concerns. But he indicated all of those being notified are already deployed outside the US and this is not expected to involve new deployments from the US at this time.
The official confirmed that in the wake of the attack on US diplomats in Libya, the Pentagon is now involved in intensive discussion with the State Department and White House on how to implement President Obama's order to step up diplomatic security around the world. "We are looking at the requirements, what we need and identifying what assets could have to move," he said. This could all include troops, aircraft, ships and other equipment if needed.
In 2008, U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens warned in a diplomatic cable about a growing jihadist group in Derna, operating not far from Benghazi.
Stevens was killed this week in an attack that U.S. sources tell CNN was planned by a pro-al Qaeda group of extremists.
In his 2008 missive, Stevens wrote about the group, apparently operating in the port city of Derna.
"One Libyan interlocutor likened young men in Derna to Bruce Willis' character in the action picture "Die Hard", who stubbornly refused to die quietly," Stevens wrote.
From Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
U.S. unmanned surveillance drones are expected to begin flying over Benghazi and other locations in eastern Libya to look for jihadi encampments and targets that may be tied to the attack on U.S. State Department personnel, a senior U.S. official told CNN Wednesday. The plan is for the drones to gather intelligence and hand it off to Libyan leaders, for Libyan forces to strike the targets, the official said.
In June, Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Jomana Karadsheh reported that the U.S. was flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region, according to a senior Libyan official. But the source said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.
Update (2:45 p.m) from CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence: A senior defense official explained, regarding drones, that the US military has been conducting ongoing drone surveillance operations over Libya for some time at least several months. What is expected is “a stepped-up, more focused search” for a particular insurgent cell that may have been behind the murder of the US Ambassador and other Americans. The defense official says he believes “the Libyans have known about it [the drone surveillance flights] for some time.”
A senior U.S. official familiar with details of what occurred in Benghazi tells our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty new details about what the source described as a complicated and complex situation.
The grenade attack created a fire in the building, leading people inside to fight the fire inside and the attackers outside, according to the senior U.S. official. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the others got separated trying to escape to the roof of the building, ultimately succumbing to smoke inhalation.
The source said there were several valiant attempts to re-enter the burning building to find and save the ones we lost – valiant but unsuccessful.
Libya has been in a "very fragile" state of security for a while, and the U.S. and international community failed in paying the country consistent and adequate attention so that it would grow stronger since the killing of its longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011.
That's according to Fran Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush and current CNN contributor who spoke Wednesday morning in the wake of the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Stevens was killed in an attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi on Tuesday.
Libya "really needs the attention and support of the international community," Townsend said. "Unfortunately it will now get the attention it needed before this tragedy."
"I think we [the United States] have supported the freedom movement [throughout the region], especially in Libya," Townsend said. "We supported the strikes. We were a part of the effort by NATO. But it's not enough, right? It's not enough to help people actually get their freedom, overthrow a government. You're going to have to come in behind them and help them as a fledgling democracy." FULL POST
The United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed in a rocket attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city of Benghazi on Tuesday, President Obama said Wednesday.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens," Obama said in a statement.
"Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States," Obama said.
The other three victims were American security staff, said a contractor working at the mission, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott
They newest tools in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomatic arsenal: knives and a pepper mill.
The kitchen implements belong to her new diplomatic warriors, which include 80 of America's top chefs in the State Department’s newly-minted Diplomatic Culinary Program. They will prepare meals for foreign leaders visiting the United State and travel overseas for cooking demonstrations and educational programs with foreign audiences. They also will host culinary experts from around the world in their kitchens back in the United States.
The program, co-sponsored by the State Department and the James Beard Foundation, officially debuted last week with a reception featuring tasty treats from some of chefs, whose upcoming diplomatic missions will span the globe.
"Food isn't traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool. But I think it's the oldest diplomatic tool," Clinton said in a video played at the State Department ceremony. "Sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can. Certainly some of the most meaningful conversations I've had with my counterparts all over the world have taken place over breakfasts, lunches and dinners."
For her state lunches, Clinton has showcased the work of American chefs, incorporating their cuisine with that of her guests' home countries.