By Tim Lister
Much of the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday was on whether her department failed to appreciate and respond to the risks that led to the Benghazi attack - and whether it had the resources to confront such risks.
And, of course, on whether in the immediate aftermath, the administration characterized the attack candidly and accurately.
But the hearings also illustrated how the United States is scrambling to catch up with new realities in North Africa – and how it faces a long struggle in a new arena of instability.
Clinton acknowledged that “the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”
Looking back to her confirmation as secretary of state four years ago, Clinton said, “I don’t think anybody thought [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would be gone, [Libya’s Moammar] Gadhafi would be gone, [Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali would be gone.”
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."
By Barbara Starr, Suzanne Kelly and Tim Lister
Whether he likes it or not, a Libyan by the name of Sufian bin Qumu has suddenly made it into the bloodstream of the international media in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week.
Fox News reported late Wednesday that bin Qumu may have been involved in the attack, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. However, a senior U.S. official told CNN Thursday that so far the United States had no evidence that he was - either in leading or planning the attack.
Qumu is a senior figure in the group Ansar al Shariah, which appeared to condone the attack immediately after it occurred, but later stressed it was not involved.
The U.S. official said Ansar al Shariah had not been positively identified as responsible for the attack, "which is more likely to turn out to be a bunch of various elements and basically AQ militants."
Another senior official told CNN: "Ansar al Sharia is only one of the elements they are looking at. The notion that the intelligence community has zeroed in on either Ansar al Sharia - its leader Sufian bin Qumu in particular is completely untrue."
"The U.S. intelligence community has no intelligence indicating that bin Qumu was on scene or even directly involved in the attack," the official said. FULL POST