Eli Lake has owned the reporting on what the White House knew and when it knew it on the Benghazi attack, but he’s not the only reporter on the story. Olivier Knox at Yahoo News confirms Lake’s reporting with his own story from last night showing that the Obama administration believed it to be a terrorist attack on “Day One.” Furthermore, it wasn’t just American intelligence that reached that conclusion:
When gunmen struck the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 of this year, the response from American officials was almost simultaneous: They immediately set about collecting information about the attackers, some of whom were quickly identified as foreigners, and tracing links from them to known extremist groups, a knowledgeable source has told Yahoo News.
The source’s description came as fresh news accounts cast doubt on the White House’s insistence that it has been forthright all along about what it knew about the attack. (I tweeted on Sept. 21 that this same source informed Yahoo News that the administration privately labeled the attack as terrorism on“Day One.”)
“Friendly Libyans were saying almost immediately that the organized attackers (not the protesters) seemed to be mostly foreigners. By the 13th, people were beginning to be identified and rolled up,” the source, who has been critical of the administration in the past, told Yahoo News. One early asset: Social media, where videos and photos of the attack gave intelligence officials early clues to what really happened.
“In this case, the intel has been spot-on from the beginning,” the source said. American intelligence reached the conclusion that the assault on the consulate was terrorism “on Day One” and “the Brits, the French, Italians all said the same thing … within 48 hours.” The source agreed to detail the American response to the tragedy on condition of anonymity.
The White House has now decided to push back against critics, accusing them of playing politics:
Administration officials have underlined that there is an FBI investigation into the attack, and said they will not offer definitive conclusions into what happened in Benghazi until that probe wraps up. They have also accused Republicans, led by Mitt Romney, of trying to score political points with the death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, who died as a result of the attack.
However, that ignores the fact that the White House pushed its own version of events far ahead of the FBI investigation, insisting that the attack came from a “spontaneous” demonstration that “spun out of control.” They blamed it on a months-old YouTube video, which had the effect of distracting attention from the connection to the anniversary of 9/11 and the al-Qaeda networks operating in eastern Libya, including in Benghazi itself. The White House sent Susan Rice out five days afterward to make that case, apparently four days after they themselves had already concluded that it was a terrorist attack.
That’s a key point, Knox’s source says:
But the anonymous source pointed to the relative silence from Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“They knew the real story from the beginning and were not paraded around to make statements,” the source told Yahoo News. “Understand that the first bits of information from something like this are usually not reliable, but at the end of 24 hours, folks should have a pretty good idea of what happened … or they are not doing their job.”
At the time, I wondered why they chose Rice to make that case. The UN Ambassador has nothing to do with consulates or embassies elsewhere, nor with security decisions made by the State Department except at Turtle Bay and Geneva. That should have been the first clue that the White House was fabricating a story. And as I wrote earlier, the collapse of that story should be creating a demand for accountability from Ambassador Rice to resign, and to explain why she went on TV to tell what turned out to be a false story.
Of course, a case could be made for operational ambiguity to help lull the terrorists into a false sense of security. Don’t expect that to fly, either. Knox’s source calls the White House public response “clumsy … very sophomoric,” and for good reason. If that was the strategy, then Rice should have avoided pushing any conclusions, and perhaps not appeared on the Sunday talk shows at all. Instead, the Obama administration sent her out to tell the one fairy tale that let them off the hook for the lack of security at a facility known to be at risk by radical Islamist terror networks — including al-Qaeda — on the anniversary of 9/11. They were more concerned with electoral security than operational security, and everyone knows it.