By Pam Benson
Senior intelligence, State Department and FBI officials can expect to be grilled next week as congressional hearings resume on the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed four Americans.
Lawmakers want answers to many outstanding questions surrounding the September 11 armed assault on the diplomatic facility and a CIA annex in Benghazi.
Specifically, they want to know who was responsible, whether it was planned, the intelligence reporting on the threat to Libya prior the attack, and whether security was adequate.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will conduct a closed-door hearing on November 15. Scheduled witnesses include Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen.
Clapper, Petraeus and Olsen will also testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on the same day.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of that panel, has been outspoken in his criticism of how the Obama administration depicted the attack in the days following the incident.
Rogers maintains the United States knew early on that the attack was not a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Muslim video as the intelligence community and administration officials said at first.
Petraeus in particular has been criticized by a number of lawmakers for telling members of Congress in a secret briefing three days after the attack that the incident was a spontaneous result of the protests. That was repeated by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on subsequent Sunday TV talk shows.
CNN's Barbara Starr reported that within a day or so of the attack, the intelligence community began to gather information suggesting it was the work of extremists either affiliated with al Qaeda groups or inspired by al Qaeda.
E-mails obtained by CNN last month indicated that within 30 minutes of the start of the attack, the State Department informed diplomatic officials, the White House, the Director of National Intelligence, the Pentagon and the FBI that it was underway and that Stevens was in the compound.
And just two hours later, one of the e-mails said the Libyan extremist group Ansar al Sharia was claiming responsibility on social media websites.
"Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli," the e-mail stated.
Rogers told CNN those e-mails, along with other information, demonstrate it was not spontaneous.
However, intelligence officials said any initial claim of responsibility on a social media site is not considered reliable.
In an unusual statement more than two weeks after the attack, Clapper revised the intelligence assessment saying it was now believed to be "a deliberate and organized terrorist assault carried out by extremists" affiliated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda.
During the congressional recess, the intelligence community has provided the committees with documents and other materials. The Senate committee alone has received well over 1,000 pages of documents, according to a congressional aide.
Last week, a senior U.S. intelligence official provided a detailed timeline of the attack. It covers the moment CIA officers at the nearby annex received a call for help from the mission, to how they responded, to the subsequent attack on the annex and the eventual evacuation of Americans from Benghazi. But the official did not discuss how the attack began or who might be responsible.
The FBI is investigating with help from the intelligence community. The State Department has also launched a review.