“In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion,” Clinton said. “And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had.”
On Tuesday, Obama and Romney argued over when the president first called it a terrorist attack. In his Rose Garden address the morning after the killings, Obama said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
But Republicans said he was speaking generally and didn’t specifically call the Benghazi event a terror attack until weeks later. Until then, key members of the administration were blaming an anti-Muslim movie circulating on the Internet as a precipitating event.
This Wednesday, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., put the blame on the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
“I think what happened was the director of intelligence, who is a very good individual, put out some speaking points on the initial intelligence assessment,” Feinstein said in an interview with news channel CBS 5 in California. “I think that was possibly a mistake.”
A U.S. intelligence official said that the talking points were written so senior officials could say something preliminary about the attacks but that it wasn’t until days later that analysts reconciled contradictory information and decided there probably wasn’t a protest around the time of the attack. The official spoke anonymously because the official was not allowed to speak publicly of the still-evolving investigation.
The official said “right now, there isn’t any intelligence” that the attackers preplanned their assault days or weeks in advance, but instead still points to an them launching the assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
Congress is asking the administration for documents about the attack, in hopes of building a timeline of what the government knew and when.
Obama has weathered similar criticisms before. After both the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010, the Obama administration initially said there were no indications of wider terrorist plots. The Christmas Day bomber turned out to be linked to al-Qaida and the Times Square bomber was trained by the Pakistani Taliban.
Nevertheless, polls have consistently showed voters trust Obama over Romney to handle terrorism. If Obama was worried that Monday’s debate would change that, he showed no signs of it Thursday night.
Speaking at a charity dinner, he offered this preview of the debate: “Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden.”