The Obama administration’s intelligence chief on Wednesday held a classified briefing on Capitol Hill in which he showed House members security camera footage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite the graphic footage, people who attended the briefing said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper reiterated earlier claims by administration officials that initial intelligence about the attack “isn’t necessarily black and white” and was evolving during the assault.
Its presentation to a wider audience Wednesday prompted some lawmakers to re-emphasize the need to focus congressional attention on preventing future attacks like the one at the Benghazi diplomatic post and a nearby CIA annex.
“Basically, we saw closed-circuit-type television production from the consulate there and the annex, where literally people came walking through the front gate, not storming in as some people have said,” said Rep. Thomas J. Rooney, Florida Republican and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“It was very difficult to watch because that is technically our soil,” Mr. Rooney told Fox News after the Clapper briefing. “That is U.S. sovereign territory, and for people to just walk in like a street mob and light the embassy on fire, our ambassador die without anyone coming to help him, it just made you feel extremely helpless.”
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, and State Department officer Sean Smith were killed in the attack.
Mr. Rooney blamed the Obama administration for causing a “distraction” by allowing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice to attribute the attack to protests against a U.S.-made anti-Islam video instead of terrorists in the days immediately following the military-style assault.
He also echoed calls made during recent days by Democrats for the discussion about Benghazi to be refocused.
“I really regret that we’ve gotten tied up in this whole issue with Ambassador Rice and whether or not she should be secretary of state,” he told Fox News. “What have we done to make sure that the people in these areas now are safe and how are we going after the bad guys?
“We’ve kind of lost our way in that,” he said, adding that lawmakers are now “in the investigation mode and hopefully we can get to the bottom of what went wrong and how we can stop it from happening again.”
Mr. Rooney’s remarks came just one a day after another House Republican had leveled a fresh round of accusations at the White House, asserting that it appears to be engaged in “a concerted effort to mislead the American people.”
“At this point the Obama administration has been elusive at best and misleading at worse,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, told USA Today on Tuesday in response to a newspaper report about how references to al Qaeda were removed from White House talking points that Mrs. Rice relied on in her early descriptions of the Benghazi attack.
The report Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed intelligence sources in outlining how, after a heated debate, numerous CIA officials had agreed to remove references to the terrorist group over concerns that leaving them in would alert al Qaeda operatives being monitored.
The report cites one official who asserted that “there was never any effort or intent to mislead or deceive.”