Was Obama briefed that Benghazi was a terror attack before Rice went on TV?

posted at 11:31 am on November 17, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

So says John Solomon at the Washington Guardian, citing sources within the intelligence community.  Within 72 hours, the Presidential Daily Briefing made it clear, according to Solomon, that the attack did not arise from a spontaneous mob protesting a YouTube video, but instead resulted from a planned, coordinated attack by radical Islamist “extremists” with links to al-Qaeda:

U.S. intelligence told President Barack Obama and senior administration officials within 72 hours of the Benghazi tragedy that the attack was likely carried out by local militia and other armed extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida in the region, officials directly familiar with the information told the Washington Guardian on Friday.

Based on electronic intercepts and human intelligence on the ground, the early briefings after the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya identified possible organizers and participants. Most were believed to be from a local Libyan militia group called Ansar al-Sharia that is sympathetic to al-Qaida, the official said, while a handful of others was linked to a direct al-Qaida affiliate in North Africa known as AQIM.

Those briefings also raised the possibility that the attackers may have been inspired both by spontaneous protests across the globe on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and by a desire to seek vengeance for the U.S. killing last summer of a Libyan-born leader of al-Qaida named Abu Yaya al-Libi, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence matters.

The details from the CIA and Pentagon assessments of the killing of Ambassador Chris Stephens were far more specific, more detailed and more current than the unclassified talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice and other officials used five days after the attack to suggest to Americans that an unruly mob angry over an anti-Islamic video was to blame, officials said.

Jennifer Rubin calls this game over for the administration’s defense of Susan Rice, and of the President himself:

Solomon cautions that there were bits of evidence pointing to a spontaneous attack but, as Eli Lake of the Daily Beast and others have reported, he writes: “Among the early evidence cited in the briefings to the president and other senior officials were intercepts showing some of the participants were known members or supporters of Ansar al-Sharia — the al-Qaida-sympathizing militia in Libya — and the AQIM, which is a direct affiliate of al-Qaida in northern Africa, the officials said.”

How could the president and his senior staff then have allowed (or rather, sent) Rice to go out to tell an entirely different tale to the American people on Sept. 16 on five TV shows?

This report indicates that the president certainly knew that Benghazi wasn’t a rogue movie review gone bad. He had information that plainly spelled out what was later confirmed by additional intelligence. If this information was too confidential to share with the public, at the very least the president and others should not have mislead voters.

This is a full-blown scandal, and in light of this information, the press corps’s slothful indifference to uncovering the truth at Wednesday’s news conference with Obama is all the more shocking. It is time for the president to come clean. The scandal has now enveloped the Oval Office and will define his second term, if not resolved satisfactorily.

To some extent, this wouldn’t be a surprise, if accurate.  A month ago, we learned that the CIA station chief in Libya had cabled Washington that the sacking of the consulate was a terrorist attack, not a protest gone rogue.  Two days after the attack itself, the Independent in the UK reported that the US had warnings up to 48 hours before the attack that the consulate had been targeted for 9/11.  We learned in October that the State Department knew within two hours after the attack that Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit for it.  All of this would fit very neatly into a PDB 72 hours later that concluded the attack had been planned and coordinated by terrorists rather than a mob action, or even a spontaneous terrorist action initiated to exploit a supposed demonstration.

We certainly have heard enough to conclude that Rice’s statement on several shows that there was “no evidence” of a terrorist attack was flat-out false, regardless of whether the evidence was conclusive by the time she made those appearances.  Solomon’s sources advance that part of the story by claiming that the PDB made a conclusive case that Benghazi at least two days before Obama sent Rice out to disseminate a false narrative.  If those sources are accurate — and it’s worth pointing out that anonymous sources have told many conflicting tales in this scandal thus far — that puts Obama in a very bad position, especially since he personally extended that narrative in the US and at the UN in a speech that blamed “those who slander the Prophet of Islam” for the violence.

What’s interesting about Solomon’s leak, other than the data itself, is the timing.  David Petraeus testified yesterday that he had almost immediately concluded that a terrorist attack had taken place, and that the official talking points given to Rice had been edited somewhere along the way from the CIA.  This came at the same time as a leak from the CIA that Petraeus would be the subject of an investigation into his extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, and a leak the day before of the talking points prepared for Susan Rice, which at first blush exonerated her from charges of lying about the attack.  There is a war going on between State and the intel community, and perhaps within the intel community itself, with sources having axes to grind lobbing leaks like mortar shells into this story.

The result?  It’s difficult to determine the truth without a boatload of subpoenas, but it’s clear that we haven’t heard the whole story about what happened before, during, and after the attack.

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