CIA chief David Petraeus described September’s attack on the American mission in Benghazi as terrorism the day after the incident when members of the Obama Administration for nearly two weeks thereafter said that there had been a “spontaneous” uprising in the city.
“We have a transcript of that meeting on that day and Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack,” recalled California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on Sunday’s Meet the Press.
Mike Rogers, her Republican counterpart in the House of Representatives, who has been skeptical of the government’s interpretation of events from the start, insisted on the same program that there had not been an “intelligence failure” in Libya. “The intelligence community had it right and they had it right early,” he said.
Yet the Friday after the attack, in which four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed, the White House’s spokesman Jay Carney said that the administration had not aware “of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the American mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” He blamed the conflagration on an anti-Islam film that had appeared on YouTube and sparked demonstrations in the Egyptian capital of Cairo that week.
So did Ambassador Susan Rice. She told ABC News’ This Week the next Sunday that the government’s “current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo” although she admitted that events had been “hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons.”
Hence Republican senator John McCain’s confusion. “Most people don’t bring rocket propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he said on CBS News’ Face the Nation that same day. “That was an act of terror.”
Rogers similarly cautioned against blaming the film, in which the life of the Prophet Muhammad was satirized, for the situation in Libya. “If we all decide to rally around the video as the problem we [are] going to make a serious mistake,” he told Fox News Sunday. He appeared on that program four days after his committee and Senator Feinstein’s had apparently been briefed by Petraeus.
As to what happened with the CIA’s assessment of the Benghazi attack and how Ambassador Rice could have misinformed the public, the two lawmakers disagreed. Rogers told NBC News this weekend that “the narrative changed” as it made its way up the chain of command. Feinstein insisted no one in the White House had changed the information. So who, between the CIA and the White House, did?