Intelligence on Benghazi shifted after Obama administration described attack as 'spontaneous'
October 19th, 2012
07:33 PM ET

Intelligence on Benghazi shifted after Obama administration described attack as 'spontaneous'

An Obama administration official whose now controversial comment that the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya was "spontaneous" relied on talking points provided by the CIA based on its assessment that an intelligence official said on Friday was updated days later with new information.

The disclosure to CNN appears to offer some clarity around the Obama administration's early stage explanation of the September 11 attack by armed militants that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

But CNN National Security Contributor Fran Townsend injected a new element into the crucial time line on Friday night, reporting on Anderson Cooper 360 that senior intelligence officials had multiple conversations with senior White House officials in the first 24 hours after the attack.

Townsend, a former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush, added that "we don't know" what was said.

"But I can tell you from having lived through these crises, you're getting a constant feed of what the intelligence community understands about what is currently going on and what has happened on the ground," Townsend said.

She added that "they will caveat the information" because in the first hours there "will be all sorts of information, some of it which will turn out not to have been true."

Additionally, a senior Republican lawmaker said members of Congress had information from intelligence officials within a day of the incident that it was a military style attack.

President Barack Obama faces harsh criticism from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for his administration's handling of security in Benghazi ahead of the attack and its slow-to-evolve explanation of what occurred.

Also: Confusion and contradiction about Benghazi suspects

The issue is expected to be highlighted on Monday when the candidates square off in their third and final debate, which will focus on national security. Romney is trying to undercut Obama's perceived strength with the electorate on foreign affairs in a tightly contested campaign.

Romney has claimed the Obama administration's statements about the attack in the days that followed were confusing at best, and illustrate his contention that the president's foreign policy is incoherent and has made America less respected and more more vulnerable.

Republicans have seized on televised remarks made five days after the attack by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. In one appearance, she said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that an assessment based on the best information available indicated a spontaneous reaction to demonstrations over an anti-Muslim film produced in the United States.

Several senior administration officials told CNN that Rice's use of the word "spontaneous" came directly from an assessment provided to Congress by the CIA and was not edited by the White House.

"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations," the document stated.

But the intelligence official said it took days to sort out information around the attack.

"It wasn't until after the points were used in public that people reconciled contradictory information and assessed there probably wasn't a protest around the time of the attack," the official told CNN.

With regard to initial thinking the incident started as a protest – an administration official maintained that intelligence coming from human sources and intercepts all indicated there was a protest on the scene. At the time, there were many demonstrations across the Middle East over the film.

The early talking points outlining the incident as spontaneous were written so members of Congress and senior officials could say something publicly about the attack, the intelligence official said.

"A key question early on was whether extremists took over a crowd or if the guys who showed up were all militants. It took time—until that next week—to sort through varied and sometimes conflicting accounts to understand the group’s overall composition,” the intelligence official said.

But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, told CNN that the panel had information from the intelligence community within 24 hours of the incident that it was a military style attack.

"If you look at all of the information leading up to (the attack) from an intelligence perspective, it's really confounding how you can come to a conclusion and then promote it for days in the face of all of that information that this was about a video," Rogers said.

The new disclosure, however, raises the question of whether intelligence officials are now being blamed for confusion about Benghazi events.

"The intelligence community is not being blamed. Administration officials have made it very clear, the (intelligence community) is providing the best possible assessment it can, another U.S. intelligence official said. "There is no sense anyone is throwing the (intelligence community) under the bus."

Separately, a Senate committee has requested documents and a classified briefing from intelligence officials about the Benghazi time line and whether statements by administration officials were inaccurate.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also wants to know about threat assessments and security concerns before the attack. A hearing is planned when lawmakers return to Washington after the election.

Romney suggested at Tuesday's debate in New York that the Obama administration played politics by failing to immediately acknowledge what occurred in Benghazi was a terror attack. Obama bristled, calling that claim "offensive."

When Obama said he described the attack as an act of terror the day after it occurred, Romney challenged him. Obama responded by saying, "check the transcript" of White House remarks on the incident.

CNN's Pam Benson and Suzanne Kelly contributed to this report

Filed under: 2012 Election • Ansar al Shariah • Barack Obama • Congress • Libya • Libya • Rep. Mike Rogers • Romney • State Department • Susan Rice
soundoff (571 Responses)
  1. home personal training

    This women got thrown to the dogs, I feel bad. The Obama administration as a whole are responsible for this. Not just her.
    What kills me is no one has been arrested yet, that we know of.

    April 12, 2014 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • michaeldmayo

      'this women' was complicit in the process of duping the American people and she should be removed from any public service position she has and actually PROSECUTED. Go feel sorry for THE PEOPLE THAT DIED and the families that Osama Obama and Hillary Duff PROMOSED TO AVENGE "RELENTLESSLY AND TIRELESSLY" but in fact HAVEN'T DONE A G*&(DA^M THING IN 2 YEARS!!!!!

      May 4, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  2. MainelyDoc

    Why ALL of the lying from the Obama administration?

    October 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply
    • Yvette47

      The current administration is corrupt and has lost all credibility. So has most of the media (and I am including CNN).

      It would be nice to (once again) seeing "reporters" and "journalists" simply reporting, without bias.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:07 am | Reply
      • Hux

        I totally agree. CNN has lost a lot of credibility with us also. So bias. They'll sit on anything about Obama. If he's found to be a liar ,he should face the strongest charges there is and hoisted from the white house. How can the American people let him stay . He has to go .

        November 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. PeterD

    President Obama and His Administration have been Lying Over & Over over Libya Attack in order to Please American Muslim Allies and NOT American People.

    October 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  4. Cindy

    What I do remember is that after our Ambassador and others were murdered, our flags were being desecrated in severl Arab countries, and our President, and Hilary Clinton and other officials were immediately APOLOGIZING to the perpetrators of the crime and were blaming this terrorist attack on an obscure film. The Obama regime was more concerned about offending Muslims than Defending Americans. That says a lot! Who does Obama serve? Americans for Muslims?

    October 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
    • Cindy

      When I look back 4 years ago I am reminded of one of Obama's first speechs abroad was to go to Egypt and APOLOGIZE for America! He sings the praises of Muslims and reprimands Americans. And we are in la-la-land listening to all the "double-speak" and rhetoric. Enough already!

      October 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
    • Deborah

      AMEN!!! America wake up

      October 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
    • whosear

      Apologize? The Cairo speech? No apologies there. In fact, he described the US as, 'E Pluribus Unum", which is a cornerstone of conservatism!!!! This apology crap is simply the Big Lie...a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth. Stop repeating the lie or point out via reliable sources where President Obama apologized.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
      • BobD

        Keep drinking your kool-aid their buddy....

        October 28, 2012 at 9:37 am |
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