New documents released as part of the congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attack on an American embassy in Libya support some claims by the Obama administration while also raising new questions about the lack of security for the embassy personnel.
After the attack, administration officials claimed that the attack was sparked by a demonstration in reaction to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, explained it this way on five Sept. 15 talk shows. Since then, Republicans have criticized the administration for providing a misleading account of those events, arguing that it was obviously a planned terrorist attack that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
On Friday a National Counterterrorism Center document showing the talking points provided to the administration on Sept. 14 suggests the truth to be somewhere between the administration and Republican positions. The CIA believed at the time that there was limited planning involved in the attack. The attackers were watching the demonstrations in Egypt and the anti-Muslim YouTube video before deciding to attack the embassy that day, according to the talking points provided to administration officials, including Rice.
On Sept. 28, National Intelligence Director James Clapper issued a press release revising the initial assessment to say that it was not a spontaneous demonstration that led to the attack but a "deliberate and organized" attack.
Congressional investigators also released documents showing heightened concerns over security by Libyan embassy officials even as the State Department was reducing security forces there. Stevens sent several messages to State Department officials expressing concerns over the lack of security for himself and the other diplomats in Libya. The last message was sent the day he was murdered.
Lt. Col. Andy Wood was the head of a U.S. special forces team assigned to protect Stevens. When his mission ended, he asked that the team be allowed to stay because he was concerned that Stevens and other embassy officials would not be adequately protected. The State Department denied his request.
Obama has vowed to bring those responsible for the death of four Americans in Benghazi to justice. On Thursday, though, The New York Times printed a story about meeting with someone believed to be the mastermind of the attack.
In "Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.," reporter David Kirkpatrick writes, "But just days after President Obama reasserted his vow to bring those responsible to justice, Mr. Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments."
Khattala told Kirkpatrick that he has not been questioned about the attack and has no plans to go into hiding.
Obama administration and campaign officials argue that the differing accounts of what took place are due to the discovery of new information as the investigation into what happened continues. Republican critics argue that Obama is attempting to downplay the fact that it was a terrorist attack because it does not square with his campaign theme that "bin Laden is dead and Al Qaida is on the run."
On ABC's "This Week," Van Jones, a former Obama administration official, defended Obama, saying, "let me tell you why the Republicans keep attacking on this. President Obama is a towering figure on foreign policy. You got somebody with a Nobel Peace Prize and he killed bin Laden."
Moderator George Stephanopoulos interrupted and said, "I'm not sure he wanted the Nobel Peace Prize," as he laughed.