Obama administration claims that the attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were spontaneous examples of outrage triggered by an obscure anti-Islam film appear to be unraveling, raising concerns the deaths may have been preventable.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested at a United Nations meeting that there was a link between the attacks and al-Qaida, The New York Times reported, and Fox News is quoting sources that intelligence officials knew within 24 hours of the assault that it was a terrorist attack.
Clinton’s U.N. comments follow a week of statements by administration officials describing the attacks as part of a protest against the little-seen movie "Innocence of Muslims," that was made in California.
As recently as Sunday, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was making the rounds of the talk shows to describe the attacks in Benghazi as spontaneous.
Clinton’s comments make her the highest ranking administration officials to make the terrorist link in what the Times describes as “the administration’s evolving and at times muddled explanation of what happened on the evening of Sept. 11 and into the next morning.”
“Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions,” Clinton said at the U.N. meeting, according to the Times.
“And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”
Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain called the shifting comments about the Sept. 11 killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others a “failure of leadership.”
“The fact that the president has skipped intelligence briefings, the fact that his administration had multiple stories, different stories coming from different corners of the administration, shows that the President was not engaged or leading on this issue,” Cain told Sean Hannity of Fox News Wednesday night.
“And now they're finally admitting that it was planned, coordinated, and a terrorist attack. Now all of a sudden they're finally coming out. It's simply a failure of leadership, period.”
GOP Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Ron Johnson sent a letter to Rice accusing her of making “several troubling statements that are inconsistent with the facts and require explanation.”
“The administration’s position seems to be evolving with the pass of each day,” GOP Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, told the Times. Collins maintained the timing of the attack on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and reports that the gunmen were heavily armed convinced her early on that the attack were terrorism.
Libya’s president, Mohamed Magariaf, has also cited the date of the attack and the attacks sophistication as evidence of a terror link.
The Washington Post reported that members of Congress are also wondering whether warning signs were overlooked in the lead up to the attacks and whether security was adequate.
“This seems like a pre-9/11 mindset — treating an act of war solely as a criminal matter,” a group of 10 congressmen wrote in a letter to the president, the Post reported.
Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Bob Corker of Tennessee wrote to Clinton seeking more information and to express concern about the “lack of security preparations made despite a demonstrable increase in risks to U.S. officials and facilities in Benghazi.”
Meanwhile, Fox reported that U.S. intelligence officials knew within 24 hours of the assault that it was a terrorist attack. Two senior U.S. officials told Fox the administration labeled the attack terrorism from the first day in order to mobilize resources.
Fox notes that some GOP members of Congress suggest that the Obama administration withheld key information on the attacks for political reasons.
President Barack Obama has still not publicly described the attacks as terrorism but his press secretary, Jay Carney, said the president now believes the attacks were, Fox reported.
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