A source familiar with intelligence reporting told The Washington Times that the Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia was singled out as the likely principal planner and executor of the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
The early assessment that Ansar al-Sharia likely carried out the attack is at odds with the Obama administration’s repeated claims in the days after the bloodshed that the raid was a spontaneous protest against a video clip of a U.S.-produced movie that disparages Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Five days after the attack, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
The source said some people in military intelligence thought otherwise: that Ansar al-Sharia was involved, that al Qaeda leaders were calling for attacks on the West and that the assault occurred on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks added up to a well-armed, planned operation. The attackers unleashed rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
The source asked not to be named or quoted directly.
A spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which did not return calls.
The revelation was made as two House Republican leaders called for an investigation into the Benghazi attack, citing information that the State Department had refused several requests from diplomats in Libya for more security in Benghazi before the fatal assault.
Reps. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the national security subcommittee, said in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed that, prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington.”
The Issa-Chaffetz letter lists 13 security-related incidents in Benghazi, several of which were previously unreported, during the six months before the attack. The congressmen said they would hold a hearing Oct. 10.
The administration’s version of events in Benghazi has shifted significantly, it says, because it gained more information in the days after the assault on the consulate.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement Friday explaining why the accounts changed.
“In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo,” he said. “As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.
“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate,” Mr. Clapper said. “However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaeda.”