The “spontaneous” talking point came from an intercepted telephone call between jihadists, in which one of the attackers notes that his group had attacked after seeing the demonstrations in Cairo. U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on Benghazi tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD there are two schools of thought on what that means. The first view is reflected in the administration’s “spontaneous” line. It holds that jihadists in Benghazi saw the demonstration in Egypt and decided, almost on a whim, to assault the compound. But the nature of the attack—the weapons, the sequencing, the coordination—suggests more planning. The attackers flushed Americans from the compound toward an “annex” two kilometers away. As the Americans fled, they encountered (and avoided) an attempted ambush on the route.
The second view is that the demonstrations in Cairo, which followed the release of a video from al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri on September 10, were seen as something of a “go signal.” As we first reported on September 12, the film, in this view, was merely the pretext for an al Qaeda “information operation,” and the Zawahiri video, which called directly for renewed jihad and for al Qaeda sympathizers to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al Libi, was intended to trigger protests and assaults throughout the region. Many of those with prominent roles in the protests and assaults—in Egypt, Tunisia, and perhaps Libya—had strong ties to al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
Not surprisingly, this view is not popular with an administration that has built its case for reelection in part on the notion that “bin Laden is dead” and “al Qaeda is on its heels.” Which leads us to the claims in the Los Angeles Times article that ran under the heading: “No evidence found of al Qaeda role in Libya attack.”