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Unfolding events would shape the scandal for months.

The Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report telling key leaders that Ansar al-Shariah was responsible for the attack, The Washington Times reported — just as State asserted in an email to the White House the previous day.

At State, Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, wrote a widely distributed email to, among others, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff. Ms. Jones had spoken with the Libyan ambassador. “I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Shariah, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”

At this point, every bit of evidence points to a jihadist attack with no embassy reports of a demonstration. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department said the attack was the work of terrorists.

But one man, perhaps the most important man in town on such matters, did not agree. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper went to the White House. His briefing said a demonstration over the YouTube video grew into a spontaneous onrush.

When they learned of his brief, people close to the intelligence community told The Times, they were incredulous. There was simply no good evidence. Libyans who lived near the mission were telling Western reporters that there was no demonstration.

Mr. Clapper’s assessment to the White House would turn out to be shockingly inaccurate. The evening of Sept. 12, a senior State Department official held a conference call with reporters. When asked, the briefer did not confirm any protests outside the mission.

The next day, reporters’ questions began to touch on security. A reporter asked Victoria Nuland, Mrs. Clinton’s chief spokeswoman, whether “very few” security people stood ready that day.

Ms. Nuland then gave an answer that would prove to be grossly inaccurate.

“I’m going to reject that,” she said. “Let me tell you what I can about the security at our mission in Benghazi. It did include local Libyan guard force around the outer perimeter. This is the way we work in all of our missions all around the world, that the outer perimeter is the responsibility of the host government.

“There was obviously a physical perimeter barrier, a wall,” she added. “And then there was a robust American security presence inside the compound. This is absolutely consistent with what we have done at a number of missions similar to Benghazi around the world.”

The Sunday talk shows

That weekend, the Sunday political talk shows were eager to talk about Benghazi and wanted the chief diplomat, Mrs. Clinton, to appear. But the White House settled on Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to give a version of events that turned out to be so wrong that it spurred charges of a political cover-up.

During the first week after Benghazi, the White House settled on the “video-made-them-do-it” explanation, which fit nicely with the Clapper briefing.

In the meantime, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence asked for information it could use publicly to talk about who attacked the mission. This gave rise to a “talking points” document that would be finalized the day before Mrs. Rice’s TV appearances and delivered to her, other policymakers and Congress.

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