By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
U.S. officials appear less certain about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, just before the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last week.
"We certainly acknowledge contradictory information about whether there was a protest prior to the attack," a U.S. official told CNN on Thursday. "We're continuing to collect information and evaluate exactly what the circumstances were prior to the attack."
U.S. officials have been saying they believe, based on the intelligence, that the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest over a trailer for an anti-Muslim film that was circulating on the Internet, and there is no indication it was a planned attack. It is a contention that critics like Republican Sen. John McCain have said is hard to believe true given the extensive attack and the amount of weaponry involved.
By Pam Benson
As details of the foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airline became public, the world learned not only about a daring operation to stop terrorists, but also about the new reality of how U.S. intelligence works.
American and foreign intelligence partners working hand in hand to rid the world of the scourge of terror. You didn't see much of that 10 years ago, but it's exactly what happened recently.
The Saudis infiltrate an al Qaeda terrorist group in Yemen with their own mole, and the CIA and others are brought into the mix to help run an operation that eventually foils a possible bomb attack against an airliner destined for America.
"I'm not at all surprised that the press accounts of this have liaison services, particularly the Saudis, playing such a prominent role," said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. "That's the way I would have expected it to go."
By Pam Benson
The Obama administration has revised guidelines to allow the National Counterterrorism Center access to data about Americans that it can search and store for a longer period of time, even if that information is not related to terrorism.
The revision, announced Thursday night, will allow the center to obtain data from other government databases that include nonterrorism information on U.S. citizens and residents, and retain the material for up to five years.
Guidelines established in November 2008 only allowed the center to keep the information for up to 180 days before permanently removing it.
By CNN Senior Producer Carol Cratty
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is "a significant threat to the homeland" despite the death of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed last week in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Thursday.
Mueller said al-Awlaki was "behind the recruiting of personnel who could undertake attacks in the United States." Mueller said AQAP still has the ability to make improvised explosive devices, and it would be "somewhat more difficult" for the group to find operatives to bring them into the U.S. on airplanes. But the FBI chief said the possibility of finding such people still exists.
By Senior National Security Producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
Editor's note: This is the first 'Case File,' a new Security Clearance series. CNN national security producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson profile the key members of the intelligence community.
His predecessor joked about being compared to "Jack Bauer," but while the new head of the National Counterterrorism Center may not be running and gunning like the fictional '24' character, Matthew Olsen is tasked with keeping the country safe from attack.
Just weeks into the job, the former Justice Department lawyer was faced with the serious 9/11 anniversary threat that emerged last Wednesday. In real life, the clock doesn't stop ticking after 24 hours. Olsen's job may sound like a fictional hero's, but a big part of his day is spent managing, which is certainly less glamorous but its just as critical, according to Michael Leiter, the man who held the job for four years before retiring earlier this year.
Leiter had some words of advice for Olsen as he was about to take the helm of the agency tasked with making sure the mistakes of failed intelligence sharing - made evident in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 - never happen again.
By Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson
Analysts are working 24/7 this week at the National Counterterrorism Center, sifting through databases for connections to a possible threat of an attack on New York or Washington around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
"Some people have not gone home who are working on this," a counterterrorism official said Friday.
Experts are reviewing variations in names - names that might be fragments or aliases, but are enough to run through their computer systems in an effort to glean more information about the possible plot, which is believed to involve a vehicle-borne explosive device.
As analysts pore through travel records trying to find out if any suspected terrorists have entered the United States, they take the fragments of information they have - names, countries, dates - to narrow down nationality, country of departure, timeframe of travel and any contacts the suspects might have had en route.
The NCTC works with other members of the intelligence community to run down leads and information is exchanged.
"A fair amount of questions are being posed both from us and to us," the counterterrorism official said. FULL POST