Report: State Department's Benghazi review panel now under investigation; Update: 3 al Qaeda operatives took part in the attack, sources say

Last December, the Accountability Review Board report on the happenings surrounding the terror attack in Benghazi concluded that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” (but still below then-Secretary Hillary Clinton) and “inadequate” security measures were to blame for the lack of preparedness, the muddled response, and the deaths of four Americans — and ever since, Clinton and other administration officials have regularly referred lingering questions on the attack to the board’s report. Just yesterday, Jay Carney insisted that “the Accountability Review Board which investigated this matter — and I think in no one’s estimation sugarcoated what happened there or pulled any punches when it came to holding accountable individuals that they felt had not successfully executed their responsibilities — heard from everyone and invited everyone. So there was a clear indication there that everyone who had something to say was welcome to provide information to the Accountability Review Board.”

Now, however, Congress is getting ready for more hearings on Benghazi with self-proclaimed whistleblowers, which House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa has suggested will “expose new facts” that the Obama administration has deliberately “tried to suppress.” So… does that mean that the ARB panel perhaps conspicuously neglected to interview some of those key witnesses? The State Department’s Office of Inspector General is investigating just that, reports Fox News:

The IG’s office is said by well-placed sources to be seeking to determine whether the Accountability Review Board, or ARB — led by former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen — failed to interview key witnesses who had asked to provide their accounts of the Benghazi attacks to the panel.

The IG’s office notified the department of the “special review” on March 28, according to Doug Welty, the congressional and public affairs officer of the IG’s office.

This disclosure marks a significant turn in the ongoing Benghazi case, as it calls into question the reliability of the blue-ribbon panel that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened to review the entire matter. Until the report was concluded, she and all other senior Obama administration officials regularly refused to answer questions about what happened in Benghazi.

For months, the administration’s constant refrain was that “this is an ongoing investigation” and that they had to wait for the results, and then they switched gears and directed everyone’s attention to the conclusions of a report that might itself turn out to be — how shall I put this delicately — incomplete? Faulty? Intentionally half-assed?

But, meh, whatever — Benghazi happened “a long time ago,” after all. What difference, at this point, does it make?

Update: To answer my own/Clinton’s question about what difference, at this point, the administration’s handling in the run-up to and fallout from the Benghazi terror attack makes: Kind of a big one. CNN is reporting that several Yemeni men belonging to AQ took part in, and were possibly sent in to instigate, the attack, according to several sources:

One senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN that “three or four members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” or AQAP, took part in the attack.

Another source briefed on the Benghazi investigation said Western intelligence services suspect the men may have been sent by the group specifically to carry out the attack. But it’s not been ruled out that they were already in the city and participated as the opportunity arose.

The attack on the compound and subsequently on a “safe-house” to which Americans had been evacuated left four U.S. citizens dead, including the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

If the AQAP members were dispatched to Benghazi, it would be further evidence of a new level of co-operation among jihadist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa, counterterrorism analysts say.

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