Les Etats-Unis condamnent dans les termes les plus énergiques cette attaque scandaleuse et choquante. Nous travaillons en collaboration avec le gouvernement libyen pour garantir la sécurité de nos diplomates. J’ai également demandé à mon administration d’accroître notre sécurité aux postes diplomatiques dans le monde entier. Et ne vous méprenez pas, nous allons travailler avec le gouvernement libyen pour traduire en justice les tueurs qui ont attaqué notre peuple. (…) Depuis notre fondation, les États-Unis ont été une nation qui respecte toutes les croyances. Nous rejetons tous les efforts visant à dénigrer les croyances religieuses d’autrui. Mais il n’y a absolument aucune justification à ce type de violence insensée. Aucune. Le monde doit être solidaire pour rejeter sans équivoque ces actes brutaux… Aucun acte de terreur ne saurait jamais ébranler la détermination de cette grande nation, modifier son caractère ou éclipser la lumière des valeurs que nous défendons. Président Obama (Rose Garden, 12 sept. 2012)
QUESTION: “We have reports that the White House said today that the attacks in Libya were a terrorist attack. Do you have information indicating that it was Iran, or al-Qaeda was behind organizing the protests?”
OBAMA: “Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.” President Obama (Univision Town Hall, Sept. 20)
QUESTION: “I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?”
OBAMA: “We are still doing an investigation. There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.” Obama (ABC, Sept. 25)
The State Department said Tuesday it never concluded that the consulate attack in Libya stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam, raising further questions about why President Barack Obama’s administration used that explanation for more than a week after assailants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The revelation came as new documents suggested internal disagreement over appropriate levels of security before the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S. The Associated Press (Oct. 10, 2012)
For political reasons, it certainly was in the White House’s interests to not portray the attack as a terrorist incident, especially one that took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring — anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt — which apparently was prompted by the video — with the deadly assault in Benghazi. Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation. Glenn Kessler
Au lendemain d’un deuxième débat présidentiel où, multipliant les attaques verbales gratuites et les contre-vérités, un président sortant en chute libre dans les sondages suite au désastre du premier semble avoir réussi à donner le change …
Et où, malgré quelques erreurs tactiques (notamment le pinaillage inutile sur le temps ou l’ordre de parole) et le manque de précision sur certaines de ses propositions, son adversaire républicain a largement tenu sa place et surtout réussi à pointer l’indéfendable bilan du locataire actuel de la Maison Blanche …
Pendant qu’au Pays autoproclamé des Droits de l’homme, les patrons de Jihad-TV et financiers tous azimuth du jihadisme de la Libye au Nord-Mali se voient remercier par une place au sein de l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie …
Retour, avec le site Factchecker, sur l’évidente opération de dissimulation, pour ne pas dire mensonge y compris pendant le débat, de l’Administration Obama sur l’attaque terroriste de Benghazi.
Opération de dissimulation qui commence dès la première déclaration présidentielle du Rose Garden du 12 septembre où son utilisation réelle du terme « acte de terrorisme », mais dans un sens purement général, vient juste après le rappel appuyé de la volonté des Etats-Unis de « respecter toutes les croyances » et de « rejeter tous les efforts visant à dénigrer les croyances religieuses d’autrui », référence on ne peut plus claire à la version « manifestation qui a dégénéré » et donc à la vidéo anti-islamiste censée avoir déclenché l’attaque.
Et qui, jouant sur la confusion avec les autres manifestations du Monde arabe qui ont suivi et balayant les critiques derrière le rideau de fumée de l’enquête en cours, sera de fait maintenue près de deux semaines quand, sans compter les revendications explicites d’Al Qaeda et le fait qu’il n’y eut même pas de manifestation à Benghazi au moment de l’attaque, les déclarations des responsables militaires et de renseignement américains auront démontré que la vidéo n’était qu’un prétexte pour une attaque délibérément terroriste (dont apparemment des jihadistes libérés de prison par le prétendu « Printemps arabe ») …
Avec l’évidente volonté de préserver, en cette journée hautement symbolique de l’anniversaire du 11/9 et surtout en pleine campagne électorale (débat d’hier compris!) face à la première mort d’un ambassadeur américain en service depuis Carter il y a 33 ans en Afghanistan, l’un des rares points forts supposés d’un bilan catastrophique …
A savoir celui d’avoir, grâce notamment aux dispositifs mis en place par son prédécesseur (dont Guantanamo qu’il prétendait fermer), tenu tête à Al Qaeda …
The fact checker
“We are still doing an investigation.”
— President Obama, Sept. 25, 2012
In any kind of confused overseas event, initial reports are often wrong. But the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, is a case study of how an administration can carefully keep the focus as long as possible on one storyline — and then turn on a dime when it is no longer tenable.
For political reasons, it certainly was in the White House’s interests to not portray the attack as a terrorist incident, especially one that took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring — anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt — which apparently was prompted by the video — with the deadly assault in Benghazi.
Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation.
Ultimately, when the head of the National Counterterrorism Center was asked pointblank on Capitol Hill whether it was a an act of terror — and he agreed — the administration talking points began to shift. (Tough news reporting — as well as statements by Libya’s president — also played a role.) Yet President Obama himself resisted using the “t” word, even as late as Tuesday, while keeping the focus on the video in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
On Wednesday, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged also that Obama himself believes the attack was terrorism — and so more than two weeks after the attack the Rubicon finally was crossed.
As a reader service, we have compiled a comprehensive timeline of administration statements, showing the evolution in talking points, with key phrases highlighted in bold. Many readers sent suggestions for this timeline, for which we are deeply grateful.
We will leave it to readers to reach their own conclusions on whether this is merely the result of the fog of war and diplomacy — or a deliberate effort to steer the storyline away from more politically damaging questions. After all, in a competitive election, two weeks is a lifetime.
Initially, ‘an attack’ — and focus on a video
“Yesterday, our U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked. Heavily armed militants assaulted the compound and set fire to our buildings. American and Libyan security personnel battled the attackers together. Four Americans were killed. They included Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information management officer, and our Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. We are still making next of kin notifications for the other two individuals.”
— Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, State Department Treaty room, Sept. 12
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I’ve also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts…No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
— President Obama, Rose Garden statement, Sept. 12
(Note: we added this statement to the timeline after Josh Gerstein of Politico asserted that the phrasing “acts of terror” showed Obama acknowledged “terrorism” was behind the attack. From our many years of covering diplomacy we would say there is a world of difference, but readers can draw their own conclusions.)
“Frankly, we are not in a position to speak any further to the perpetrators of this attack. It was clearly a complex attack. We’re going to have to do a full investigation.”
— Unnamed senior administration official, briefing reporters in a conference call, Sept. 12
“I think it’s important to note with regards to that protest that there are protests taking place in different countries across the world that are responding to the movie that has circulated on the Internet. As Secretary Clinton said today, the United States government had nothing to do with this movie. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. America has a history of religious tolerance and respect for religious beliefs that goes back to our nation’s founding. We are stronger because we are the home to people of all religions, including millions of Muslims, and we reject the denigration of religion. We also believe that there is no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence.”
— White House spokesman Jay Carney, news briefing, Sept. 13
“This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over n awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with. It is hard for the American people to make sense of that because it is senseless, and it is totally unacceptable.
— Clinton, transfer of remains ceremony, Sept. 14
“I have seen that report, and the story is absolutely wrong. We were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent. That report is false.”
— Carney, news briefing, Sept. 14
“Based on the best information we have to date … it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent…. We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
— Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sept. 16
“We had a substantial security presence with our personnel and the consulate in Benghazi. Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function. And indeed, there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”
— Rice, on ABC’s “This Week,” Sept. 16
(Note: the U.S. post was not a consulate and its precise role is still a mystery.)
“The way these perpetrators acted and moved, and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”
— Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, Sept. 16
QUESTION: “Simply on the basis of what Ambassador Rice has publicly disclosed, does the United States Government regard what happened in Benghazi as an act of terror?”
SPOKESWOMAN VICTORIA NULAND: “Again, I’m not going to put labels on this until we have a complete investigation, okay?”
QUESTION: “You don’t — so you don’t regard it as an act of terrorism?”
NULAND: “I don’t think we know enough. I don’t think we know enough. And we’re going to continue to assess. She gave our preliminary assessment. We’re going to have a full investigation now, and then we’ll be in a better position to put labels on things, okay?”
— exchange at State Department briefing, Sept. 17
“Well, you’re conveniently conflating two things, which is the anniversary of 9/11 and the incidents that took place, which are under investigation and the cause and motivation behind them will be decided by that investigation.”
— Carney, news briefing, Sept. 17
Suddenly, a shift to a ‘terrorist attack’
“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy….The best information we have now, the facts that we have now indicate that this was an opportunistic attack on our embassy. The attack began and evolved and escalated over several hours at our embassy — our diplomatic post in Benghazi. It evolved and escalated over several hours.
“It appears that individuals who were certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the — into the morning hours of September 12th. We do know that a number of militants in the area, as I mentioned, are well-armed and maintain those arms. What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack.
“We are focused on who was responsible for this attack. At this point, what I would say is that a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area, as well. We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s affiliates; in particular, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
— Mathew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testimony before Congress, Sept. 19, after being asked a direct question.
CNN reports on Sept. 19 that Ambassador Christopher Stevens had been worried by the security threats in Benghazi. CNN later acknowledged the information came from Steven’s journal.
“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self- evident.
“He also made clear that at this point, based on the information he has — and he is briefing the Hill on the most up-to-date intelligence — we have no information at this point that suggests that this was a significantly preplanned attack, but this was the result of opportunism, taking advantage of and exploiting what was happening as a result of reaction to the video that was found to be offensive.”
— Carney, news briefing, Sept. 20
CBS News reports there never was anti-American protest.
“Witnesses tell CBS News that there was never an anti-American protest outside of the consulate. Instead they say it came under planned attack. That is in direct contradiction to the administration’s account.”
— Margaret Brennan CBS News correspondent, CBS News report aired Sept. 20
But Obama resists saying the ‘t’ word…
OBAMA: “What we’ve seen over the last week, week and a half, is something that actually we’ve seen in the past, where there is an offensive video or cartoon directed at the prophet Muhammad. And this is obviously something that then is used as an excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts directed at Westerners or Americans.
“And my number-one priority is always to keep our diplomats safe and to keep our embassies safe. And so when the initial events happened in Cairo and all across the region, we worked with Secretary Clinton to redouble our security and to send a message to the leaders of these countries, essentially saying, although we had nothing to do with the video, we find it offensive, it’s not representative of America’s views, how we treat each other with respect when it comes to their religious beliefs, but we will not tolerate violence.”
QUESTION: “We have reports that the White House said today that the attacks in Libya were a terrorist attack. Do you have information indicating that it was Iran, or al-Qaeda was behind organizing the protests?”
OBAMA: “Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
— President Obama, Univision Town Hall, Sept. 20
“What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans.”
— Clinton, statement at a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Sept. 21, 2012
“As we all know, the United States lost a great ambassador and the Libyan people lost a true friend when Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the terrorist assault on our consulate in Benghazi.”
— Clinton, meeting with Libyan President Magariaf , Sept. 24
QUESTION: “I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?”
OBAMA: “We are still doing an investigation. There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.”
— Obama, on ABC’s “The View,” Sept. 25
“That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.”
— Obama, speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 25
“It was a preplanned act of terrorism directed against American citizens.”
— Magariaf, on NBC’s “Today” show, Sept. 26
“For some time, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups have launched attacks and kidnappings from northern Mali into neighboring countries. Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions. And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”
— Clinton, at the United Nations, Sept. 26
QUESTION: “Is there any reason why the President did not — he was asked point-blank in The View interview, is this a terrorist attack, yes or no? Is there any reason why he didn’t say yes?”
CARNEY: “He answered the question that he was asked, and there’s no reason that he chose the words he did beyond trying to provide a full explanation of his views and his assessment that we need to await further information that the investigation will uncover. But it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the President’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”
— Carney, news briefing, Sept. 26
Real clear politics
October 16, 2012
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I was interested to hear Megyn that women don’t like the kind of in-your-face fighting that we basically saw in the debate. I can’t speak for her gender, but I can speak on behalf of mine. We love this stuff. This was a boxing match, this was heavyweight. This was Frazier-Ali. Even the stage was sort of like an arena, a ring where they circled each other. At one point I thought they would sort of use their mikes as weapons, and it would turn into the Taiwanese Parliament where you get fantastic fistfights. Look, this was a very tough fight.
I think Romney did about as well as he did last time around, he made his points. Obama clearly had a good night, a much better night than the first night. You know, Woody Allen said showing up is 80% of life, well he was at the 80%. And I think on points, if you were scoring it’s on points, Obama wins on points. He made a lot of counter punches, a lot of accusations. He managed to get under Romney’s skin a little bit by referring to his wealth, ‘if you make $20 million a year,’ trying to make a point about taxes. But it’s a way to say you’re a rich guy, how will you understand the ordinary guy? I thought there is a point where Romney did really well, I think all of us agree, that was on the larger general issue on the failure of this administration.
When Romney went large, he did well. When Romney went small, trying to answer each point here and there, I think Obama got the better of him. But there was one critical issue in this debate. The Libya question. Obama was at sea. He was asked about the security in Libya and Benghazi, he didn’t try to answer because he had no answer. Instead he went on about how we’re going to catch these guys. Romney, I think had a huge opening that he missed. Obama ended by saying, you know, ‘I’m offended by the implication we’d mislead.’ The obvious retort was, ‘Mislead? You sent out your UN ambassador to mislead America on five television shows in one morning implying it’s about a video, talking about a riot. There was none. There wasn’t a video in this issue in Benghazi.’
And then, there was one tactical error that Romney made which was he kept asking the president questions. Every lawyer knows you never ask a question for which you don’t already have the answer in already have the answer in hand. And that gave obama a chance to counterpunch. We’ve got Candy Crowley’s intervention, which is essentially incorrect, supporting Obama on the transcript. He did not call it’s a terror incident. There was a big opening that was missed. I think it was contaminated by the actions of the moderator. But again, on the big issue, that one where I think Romney could really have scored, he missed an opportunity and that’s probably why, I think on points, Obama came out ahead.
BRET BAIER: Charles, we’ve talked about Libya quite a bit on « Special Report. » The president said tonight, as soon as he heard that the Benghazi consulate was attacked, he was on the phone with his national security team telling them to find out how it happened, to make sure that security was tightened, and to get to the bottom of it. Now, we hear that the intelligence, weeks later, they’re saying was wrong. And that they blamed this anti-Islam video, including the president saying it six times at the United Nations. Does that answer square and will the fallout from that be a problem for this White House?
KRAUTHAMMER: I think it will be a problem for the White House. They have clearly told untruths, fictions. The president perpetrated them two weeks later on Letterman when he spoke about Libya in the context of the video when everybody knew it was not an issue at the time. So I think on the facts, on explaining Libya, yes, it’s going do be a huge problem, but it will be a huge problem in a few days. Right now, in the context of the debate, I think he got away with it because there was no actual response at the time on the stage and when you had moderator meeting in behalf of Obama, that I think swung it in a way that was basically incorrect and unfair.
Bradley Klapper and Larry Margasak
The Asssociated Press
October 10, 2012
WASHINGTON — The State Department said Tuesday it never concluded that the consulate attack in Libya stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam, raising further questions about why President Barack Obama’s administration used that explanation for more than a week after assailants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The revelation came as new documents suggested internal disagreement over appropriate levels of security before the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S.
Briefing reporters ahead of a hotly anticipated congressional hearing today, State Department officials provided their most detailed rundown of how a peaceful day in Benghazi devolved into a sustained attack that involved multiple groups of men armed with weapons such as machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars over an expanse of more than a mile.
But asked about the administration’s initial — and since retracted — explanation linking the violence to protests over an anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet, one official said, « That was not our conclusion. »
He called it a question for « others » to answer, without specifying.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, and provided no evidence that might suggest a case of spontaneous violence or angry protests that went too far.
The attack has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, featured prominently in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s latest foreign policy address on Monday. He called it an example of Obama’s weakness in foreign policy matters, noting: « As the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists. »
The administration counters that it has provided its best intelligence on the attack and that it refined its explanation as more information came to light. But five days after the attack, Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, gave a series of interviews saying the administration believed the violence was unplanned and that extremists with heavier weapons « hijacked » the protest and turned it into an outright attack.
She has since denied trying to mislead Congress, and a concurrent CIA memo that was obtained by The Associated Press cited intelligence suggesting the demonstrations in Benghazi « were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo » and « evolved into a direct assault » on the diplomatic posts by « extremists. »
Alongside defining the nature of the Benghazi attack, Congress is looking into whether adequate security was in place.
According to an email obtained Tuesday by the AP, the top State Department security official in Libya told a congressional investigator that he had argued unsuccessfully for more security in the weeks before Ambassador Chris Stevens, a State Department computer specialist and two former Navy SEALs were killed. But department officials instead wanted to « normalize operations and reduce security resources, » he wrote.
Eric Nordstrom, who was the regional security officer in Libya, also referenced a State Department document detailing 230 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012 that demonstrated the danger there to Americans.
Nordstrom is among the witnesses set to testify today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to the panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the head of a subcommittee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department refused repeated requests to provide more security for U.S. diplomats in Libya.
« You will note that there were a number of incidents that targeted diplomatic missions and underscored the GoL’s (government of Libya) inability to secure and protect diplomatic missions, » Nordstrom’s email stated.
« This was a significant part of (the diplomatic) post’s and my argument for maintaining continued DS (diplomatic security) and DOD (Department of Defense) security assets into Sept/Oct. 2012; the GoL was overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection.
« Sadly, that point was reaffirmed on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, » he added.
Nordstrom said the incidents demonstrated that security in Libya was fragile and could degrade quickly. He added that Libya was « certainly not an environment where (the diplomatic) post would be directed to ‘normalize’ operations and reduce security resources in accordance with an artificial time table. »
Nordstrom also said diplomats in Libya were told not to request an extension of a 16-member special operations military team that left in August, according to an official of the Oversight panel. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and thus spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
The State Department has said it never received a request to extend the military team beyond August, and added that its members were replaced with a security team that had the same skills.
Democrats on the Oversight committee were sharply critical of Issa, the chairman, calling his investigation « extremely partisan. »
« The chairman and his staff failed to consult with Democratic members prior to issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic committee members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya, » a Democratic memo said.
It said in the previous two years, House Republicans voted to cut the Obama administration’s requests for embassy security by some $459 million.
The Democratic memo said Nordstrom told committee investigators that he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March and July 2012 requesting additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, but that he received no responses.
He stated that Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low and that Lamb believed the Benghazi facilities did not need any diplomatic security special agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency.
Issa had a phone conversation Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about the committee’s investigation.
The FBI is still investigating the attack. Clinton also has named a State Department review panel to look into the security arrangements in Libya.
U.S. Tracks Egyptian Operative Freed From Prison in Wake of Arab Spring
Siobhan Gorman and Matt Bradley
October 1, 2012
The revolutions that swept the Middle East and North Africa also emptied prisons of militants, a problem now emerging as a potential new terrorist threat. Matt Bradley has details on The News Hub. Photo: Reuters.
Fighters linked to one freed militant, Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, took part in the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, U.S. officials believe based on initial reports. Intelligence reports suggest that some of the attackers trained at camps he established in the Libyan Desert, a former U.S. official said.
Western officials say Mr. Ahmad has petitioned the chief of al Qaeda, to whom he has long ties, for permission to launch an al Qaeda affiliate and has secured financing from al Qaeda’s Yemeni wing.
U.S. spy agencies have been tracking Mr. Ahmad’s activities for several months. The Benghazi attacks gave a major boost to his prominence in their eyes.
Mr. Ahmad, although believed to be one of the most potent of the new militant operatives emerging from the chaos of the Arab Spring, isn’t the only one, according to Western officials. They say others are also trying to exploit weaknesses in newly established governments and develop a capacity for strikes that could go well beyond recent violent protests in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.
The U.S. and its allies hoped the revolutions of last year would lead to a more stable, more democratic and more U.S.-friendly Middle East. That may still come to pass. But in the near term, they face a growing number of security threats—not only the violence around the release of an anti-Islamic video but also terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and gains made in Yemen by al Qaeda’s affiliate there.
« A lot of people were exuberant that the Arab uprisings in countries like Libya would lead to democracy…as well as stability, » said Seth Jones, a counterterrorism specialist at the Rand Corp. think tank. But, he said, the resulting weak central governments are leaving room for terrorist leaders to operate.
The new threats are particularly relevant in light of the U.S. Consulate attack Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya. For days after the attack, intelligence officials and the Obama administration said it was likely the outgrowth of protests sparked by an anti-Islamic video made in the U.S.
Intelligence officials now believe the attack was carried out by local militants who were in contact with regional members of al Qaeda-affiliated groups, using the eruption of protests elsewhere as an opportunity to mount an assault on U.S. installations. That belated conclusion has raised questions about the adequacy of intelligence and security preparations at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad as they confront both old and newer risks.
Of the new militant operatives, Mr. Ahmad is among the most worrisome to Western officials. Thought to be about 45, he is a native of Cairo’s Shobra district, a densely populated, low-income neighborhood along the Nile that includes many Coptic Christians, said Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, who recently interviewed several of Mr. Ahmad’s associates in Egypt.
According to Mr. Barfi, Mr. Ahmad attended college, studying either literature or commerce, and went to Afghanistan in the late 1980s. There, said his associates, he trained to make bombs.
On returning to Egypt in the 1990s, a former U.S. official said, Mr. Ahmad became head of the operational wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a physician who is now the chief of al Qaeda. Associates of Mr. Ahmad agree he was part of Egyptian Islamic Jihad but say he wasn’t among its leaders.
Many of that group’s fighters embraced a cease-fire with the government of former President Hosni Mubarak in 1997, but Mr. Ahmad earned a reputation as a hard-liner by rejecting it, according to Mr. Barfi.
« Unlike the organization’s leaders who have reconciled with the state and have eagerly embraced the democratic process, Mr. Ahmad and his cohorts reject any semblance of compromise with the state they have fought for decades, » Mr. Barfi said.
Former militants who knew Mr. Ahmad in an Egyptian prison, where he was locked up around 2000, describe a hardened inmate who showed belligerence toward the guards. While most prisoners submitted to random cell searches, Mr. Ahmad often refused to let guards remove items from his cell, the former inmates say.
He would start by preaching to the guards and escalate to shouted insults, said a former jihadi imprisoned with him starting in 2006. That often landed Mr. Ahmad in solitary confinement, in a roofless cell exposed to the elements. The guards sometimes let in dogs or insects to harass him, said the ex-jihadi.
Freed last year, Mr. Ahmad is building his own terror group, say Western officials, who call it the Jamal Network. They say he appears to be trying to tap former fellow inmates such as Murjan Salim, a man who, like Mr. Ahmad, has ties to al Qaeda’s Dr. Zawahiri. Former associates of Mr. Ahmad said Mr. Salim is directing aspiring jihadis to Mr. Ahmad’s camps in Libya.
In an interview in Cairo, Mr. Salim denied any connection to jihad, citing his physical limitations. He uses a wheelchair, a result, he said, of being wounded by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Also freed in Egypt last year was Mohammed al-Zawahiri, a brother of the al Qaeda leader. Mohammed al-Zawahiri backed a protest in Cairo three weeks ago but says he had no role in a later invasion of U.S. Embassy grounds.
U.S. officials believe he has helped Mr. Ahmad connect with the al Qaeda chief. In an interview, Mohammed al-Zawahiri denied that, saying that though imprisoned with Mr. Ahmad, he isn’t helping him. « These are all accusations without proof, » he said.
Mr. Zawahiri denied resuming past militant activities. « This is always what they say, » he said. « This is meant to scare us away from exercising our political rights. »
As for Mr. Ahmad, associates say he now lives in Libya. Western officials believe that besides financing through al Qaeda’s Yemeni wing, he has tapped into its system for smuggling fighters. At his camps, militants are believed to be training future suicide bombers, say current and former U.S. officials, who add that he has established limited links with jihadists in Europe.
U.S. officials working with Libyans to investigate the consulate assault in Benghazi have identified some of the attackers and believe some are associates of Mr. Ahmad. Also believed present were militants affiliated with other groups, including Ansar al Sharia, a local group, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has origins in Algeria.
The Obama administration on Friday adjusted its assessment. « As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists, » said a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence. The latest thinking is that militants, after seeing the mayhem in Egypt, decided to use the opportunity to mount attacks they had done general planning for.
Mr. Barfi, based on his contacts with Ahmad associates in Egypt, said Mr. Ahmad has discussed attacking American targets in countries where the U.S. has a military presence. American officials said he doesn’t appear to pose a threat to the U.S. homeland but could be a threat to U.S. interests abroad.
How well he and other militants freed during the Arab Spring can take advantage of the security vacuums left by the overthrow of authoritarian regimes remains unknown, said one U.S. official, who noted that some have struggled to adapt to widespread change in the region.
—Adam Entous and Lara El Gibaly contributed to this article.
Stirrings of Militancy Since the Arab Spring
Feb., March 2011: Egypt frees militant prisoners.
April 2011: Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia is founded.
April 2011: Ansar al Sharia in Yemen, a unit of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is formed.
Dec. 2011: Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula is formed, pledges to « fulfill the oath » of Osama bin Laden.
June 2012: Bomb damages wall of U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Aug. 2012: Militants attack Egyptian security forces in Sinai.
Sept. 2012: Attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi kill ambassador and three other Americans (left). U.S. officials believe some attackers had links to a militant released from prison in Egypt last year.