By Suzanne Kelly
The top U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday there was no obvious warning ahead of the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and rebuffed criticism of the intelligence community's initial assessment of the incident.
James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, said in raw and revealing remarks to a group of intelligence professionals and contractors in Orlando that there is a "message" the intelligence community has learned since the September 11 attack that is "applicable to the executive and legislative branches of government" as well as to members of the media.
U.S. intelligence has been sharply criticized by some members of Congress who allege the Obama administration did not come out soon enough and identify the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans as a planned, terrorist assault.
Clapper said an increased security risk is the new normal overseas, and that people need to understand what intelligence can and cannot do.
"The challenge is always a tactical warning, the exact insights ahead of time that such an attack is going to take place and obviously we did not have that," Clapper said in answering questions after the speech.
"This gets into the mysteries versus secrets thing. If people don't behave, emit a behavior or talk or something else ahead of time to be detected, it's going to be very hard to predict an exact attack and come up with an exact attack," he said.
Clapper showed he's not immune to the criticism which he read as while returning from a working trip to Australia.
"I flew back to Washington, and I'm reading the media clips about the hapless, hopeless, helpless, inept, incompetent DNI, because I acknowledged publicly that we didn't instantly have that 'God's eye, God's ear' certitude about an event that I mentioned earlier," Clapper said. "It made me want to go right back to Australia."
Several intelligence sources have expressed frustration since the attack that there was an unrealistic expectation for that community to know what happened within hours of the Benghazi incident.
Intelligence officials have adjusted their initial assessment of the attack from one that may have been prompted by an anti-Muslim film circulating on the Internet to a more recent belief that it was a planned, terrorist assault.
Clapper channeled a recent article written by Paul Pillar, a 28-year intelligence community veteran who now teaches at Georgetown University which laid out the argument that second-guessing what the intelligence community knew after the Benghazi attack and forensically questioning at what moment they knew it, doesn't do much to help the conversation.
Pillar wrote that "a demand for an explanation that is quick, definite and unchanging reflects a naive expectation – or in the present case, irresponsible politicking."
CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report