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Last week, before Mr. Clapper released his statement, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he knew of no warning from the Defense Intelligence Agency that an attack was being planned.

“There was a thread of intelligence reporting that groups in the environment in eastern Libya were seeking to coalesce, but there wasn’t anything specific and certainly not a specific threat to the consulate that I’m aware of,” Gen. Dempsey told reporters.

Added Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta: “A group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate and against our individuals. What terrorists were involved, I think, still remains to be determined by the investigation. But it clearly was a group of terrorists who conducted that attack against that facility.”

In the days after the attack, several news outlets mentioned the possible involvement of the jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, which said it did not take part in the assault. Its leader, Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi, said in a rare interview with the BBC said that his group is not affiliated with al Qaeda but approves of its methods.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Monday that the White House has held secret meetings in recent months to examine the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and to consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes.

Citing U.S. officials, The Post said the meetings occurred in the months before the Benghazi attack and reflect concern that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has become more dangerous since seizing territory in Mali and acquiring weapons from post-revolution Libya.