Obama official: Yes, Benghazi was a terrorist attack and there are "indications" Al Qaeda was involved; Update: Ringleader released from Gitmo in 2007?

So here’s where we’re at after a week of inane White House spin. Until yesterday, the official line was that this attack — which involved heavy weapons — just might have been a spontaneous protest over the Mohammed YouTube video that got way, way out of control. Certainly it wasn’t anything organized or foreseeable or else the Foreign Policy President would have been on it. Then, yesterday, Carney finally bowed to reality and acknowledged that bona fide terrorists might have exploited a protest to launch an attack. Still spontaneous, though. Nothing pre-planned.

We’re still on that talking point as of 6 p.m., but now there’s a lot more meat on the bone with respect to who those bona fide terrorists might be. I figure by late Thursday or early Friday, they’ll finally go the whole nine yards and admit that, yeah, the people responsible might have had a thought or two about doing something like this before they acted.

“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans…

“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,” he said.

The U.S. government just isn’t sure yet whether the terrorist attack was pre-planned or whether it was an example of terrorists taking advantage of protests against an anti-Islam film, Olsen said.

“It appears that individuals who were certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and 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,” he said.

Question: Why are we still focused on the question of whether the attack was “pre-planned” or “spontaneous” if we have good reason to think Al Qaeda was involved? It’s not like U.S. intelligence didn’t know that there are expert jihadis in the area; on the contrary, Benghazi is one of the jihadi-est places on Earth and has been so for years. Whether a group of mujahedeen sketched out an assault on the consulate in advance or whether they got wind of the protest and raced down to the building with guns blazing, the point here is that (a) there are a lot of them in the area, (b) they have plenty of weapons, (c) both of those facts are well known to the CIA and State Department, and yet (d) the consulate was nonetheless left without any serious security. Try to wrap your mind around the fact that Obama and his State Department left the building so vulnerable that it’s actually possible that a spontaneous attack from Al Qaeda was able to breach the walls and take the life of the U.S. ambassador. The White House is trying to use this somehow as a point in its own defense. Why?

Here’s something else inane, as noted by RNC research director Joe Pounder. Remember when the State Department said it would no longer be fielding questions about the Benghazi attack? Guess who Carney is now deferring to with respect to questions directed at the White House:

Tapper followed up: “Who made the decision that there should not be any Marines at our diplomatic posts in Libya? More than half of our diplomatic posts have Marines. I understand they’re not there to protect people. They’re there to protect classified data but it doesn’t hurt to have them there. Who made the decision?”

Carney responded: “I think security at diplomatic facilities is overseen by and run by the State Department, so I’d refer you to them about how decisions are made and what the allocation of resources was in Benghazi and elsewhere. I think they’re the best people to answer that question.”

If you want to know what happened at Benghazi, ask State. But State won’t talk about it, so ask the FBI. But the FBI can’t talk about it because it’s an ongoing investigation. Perfection.

Update: Now that there’s a “blame Bush” angle to this story, maybe the White House can finally admit that, yes, this whole thing was orchestrated by a hardened jihadi capo.

Sufyan Ben Qumu is thought to have been involved and even may have led the attack, Fox News’ intelligence sources said. Qumu, a Libyan, was released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007 and transferred into Libyan custody on the condition he be kept in jail. His Guantanamo files also show he has ties to the financiers behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Here’s an NYT story on Qumu from 2011, back when he was a “freedom fighter” helping the United States and its western allies to oust Qaddafi.

He was a tank driver in the Libyan Army in the 1980s, when the Central Intelligence Agency was spending billions to support religious militants trying to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. Mr. Qumu moved to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, just as Osama bin Laden and other former mujahedeen were violently turning against their former benefactor, the United States.

He was captured in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, accused of being a member of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and sent to Guantánamo — in part because of information provided by Colonel Qaddafi’s government.

“The Libyan Government considers detainee a ‘dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts,’ ” says the classified 2005 assessment, evidently quoting Libyan intelligence findings, which was obtained by The New York Times.

Very much worth noting, though: Counterterror expert Aaron Zelin seems to think this is a case of mistaken identity. Qumu’s group is Ansar al-Sharia, based in Dernah. The group suspected in the consulate attack is Katibah Ansar al-Sharia, based in Benghazi. Someone may have heard “Ansar al-Sharia” and made the assumption that it was Qumu’s group, not the Benghazi one, that led the assault. Just something to note as reporters begin to chase this angle.

Update: Careless error on my part: I misidentified Joe Pounder in the post above. Now corrected. Sorry about that.