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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Libya Attack Was 'Organized,' U.S. Says

WASHINGTON—The deadly attack earlier this month at a U.S. consulate in Libya was "deliberate and organized," the top U.S. spy's office said Friday.
The revised assessment by the Director of National Intelligence, the office that heads up the various U.S. spy agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, is the most declarative U.S. statement yet that the Sept. 11 assault on U.S. diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya—which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens—was a coordinated terrorist attack. It contrasts with some early administration statements that the siege grew out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video.

The U.S. has ramped up its probe. The CIA has sent operatives to Libya to assist with it, according to a former U.S. official.Some Republican critics have implied that the Obama administration knew that the attack was preplanned by terrorist groups but hid that fact to avoid exposing security failures. White House officials say that isn't the case and that they have conveyed what facts they knew at the time.The DNI underscored Friday that its latest assessment reflects an evolution in the information emerging from investigations into the attack. The assessment also doesn't yet answer the question at the heart of a growing political controversy: whether the assault was a premeditated attack that the administration should have known about.

The chain of events that began when protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and ended with the four Americans' deaths in a succession of firefights in eastern Libya, have posed an unexpected challenge to President Barack Obama's foreign policy record just weeks before the November election.
Evidence shortly after the attacks had "led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo," DNI spokesman Shawn Turner said Friday.
"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," Mr. Turner said.
It still isn't clear, he added, "if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate." He added that "some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaeda."
Republicans have accused the White House of conveying mixed messages.
"I think it's increasingly clear—if now not definitively pointed out—that this was a terrorist attack against our diplomats," Republican nominee Mitt Romney told reporters Friday. "There was a great deal of confusion about that from the very beginning on the part of the administration, and whether that was something that they were trying to paper over or whether it was just confusion given the uncertain intelligence reports—time will tell."
In the first days after the attack, top administration officials said it was too early to say what precipitated it. Five days after, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, blamed the assault mainly on an anti-Islamic video circulating on the Internet.
On Sept. 19, however, the top U.S. counterterrorism official said the assault had connections to terrorists, including al Qaeda's North African affiliate. After that, more administration officials, including White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have labeled it a terrorist attack. President Obama indirectly referred to the assault as an act of "terror" on Sept. 12 but has refrained from using the term since.
Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), a frequent administration critic, called Friday for Ms. Rice's resignation for misleading the public about the nature of the attack.
Mr. Turner of the DNI's office said intelligence officials provided public officials with "evolving" information about the attacks, beginning with the early assessments.
"We provided that initial assessment to executive branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available," he said. "Throughout our investigation, we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving."
Friday's statement was an effort to explain "early reports are often wrong or incomplete," he said. "But our intelligence community continues to work around the clock to gather details and understand exactly what happened in Benghazi."
Still unanswered is whether the attack was planned in advance. In recent days, a consensus among intelligence officials has emerged that the assault was highly organized and involved al Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa, but that the specific attack was planned on the fly on the day of world-wide protests against American installations.
"The attack's execution was not necessarily indicative of extensive planning," Mr. Turner said, saying there still were "unanswered questions."
"The degree to which there was some level of planning is one we continue to look at," he said.
Republicans in Congress, adding to the political pressure, said they have received briefings that counter the White House version of events and indicate the attacks had been "preplanned."
Eight Republicans wrote to Mr. Obama this week to voice frustration that the administration has left many unanswered questions about the attack. A bipartisan group of senators, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.), is also requesting more information from the administration.
The crime scene in Benghazi, abandoned after the U.S. evacuation and subject to looters for days, has posed security problems for the U.S. investigators. However, a U.S. law-enforcement official played down the value of the site, given that it is tainted more than two weeks after the attack. Federal agents are using intelligence and analyzing intercepts, and some are doing interviews in Tripoli.
Intelligence agencies have stepped up their reporting on Libyan terror groups, said a congressional aide, who said shortly after the attacks the counterterrorism-related U.S. intelligence reports on Libya increased at least fivefold.

Edited By Cen Fox Post Team

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