Yesterday, Fox News reported that the Obama administration designated the sacking of the American consulate in Benghazi as an act of terrorism within 24 hours — and several days before they finally gave up arguing that it wasn’t. The decision to do so didn’t just come from a need to free up additional funds to respond to the attack, which killed four Americans including the first US Ambassador to be murdered in the line of duty since 1979. According to Eli Lake at The Daily Beast, US intel intercepted a number of communications within the local branch of al-Qaeda congratulating each other for the successful mission in Benghazi:
In the hours following the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored communications from jihadists affiliated with the group that led the attack and members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM), the group’s North African affiliate.
In the communications, members of Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) bragged about their successful attack against the American consulate and the U.S. ambassador, according to three U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
At this stage there is no consensus inside the U.S. intelligence community that AQIM planned the attack, but the communications are more evidence that the attack was no spontaneous reaction to an Internet video, as the Obama administration had said for the first nine days after the attack.
The intercepts are important for another reason, Lake reports. The communications show that AAS acts in a subordinate fashion to AQIM, taking orders and reporting upward. AAS has been a known terrorist group for some time, but like a number of these networks, have risen to prominence after NATO’s removal of Moammar Qaddafi. At some point, the US and other Western powers might have seen AAS as a counterweight to AQIM, but Lake’s reporting suggests that any PR to that effect would be a fantasy.
Lake extends his reporting on the pre-attack intel, which makes this subterfuge pretty clear:
Elements of the U.S. intelligence community were well aware of the threat Al Qaeda posed in eastern Libya before the 9/11 anniversary. In August, the Library of Congress at the direction of a U.S. government research organization that focuses on counterterrorism concluded that Al Qaeda was well on its way to resurgence inside post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya. The unclassified report commissioned by the Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office’s Irregular Warfare Support Program said Al Qaeda’s senior leadership “in Pakistan dispatched trusted senior operatives as emissaries and leaders who could supervise building a network. Al-Qaeda has established a core network in Libya, but it remains clandestine and refrains from using the al-Qaeda name.”
The report also describes Ansar al-Sharia as being led by a former detainee from the Guantánamo Bay prison, Sufian Ben Qhumu. It says the group has “increasingly embodied al-Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States.”
The pieces keep materializing in a steady drip-drip-drip after the nine days of denial from the White House. They got caught flat-footed on the anniversary of 9/11 in the one part of the world where an American diplomatic mission would be most vulnerable — and they’ve been trying to deny it ever since.