President Barack Obama was informed in his earliest briefing about the Sept. 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that the event was a terrorist attack, not an anti-American demonstration gone awry, as the administration told the public in the days and weeks following the event that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Leon Panetta, then-Defense Secretary and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee which is conducting the Benghazi investigation, that they briefed the president directly as the event was unfolding that the incident was a terrorist attack, according to declassified testimony obtained by Fox News
Panetta said in testimony that it was he who informed the president that "there was an apparent attack going on in Benghazi." When asked further by Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican committee member, whether Panetta believed "unequivocally" at the time that it was a terrorist attack, Panetta said, "There was no question in my mind that this was a terrorist attack."
Other defense officials involved in the earliest briefings of the incident also reported the incident was an attack, including Gen. Carter Ham, then-head of AFRICOM who broke the news to Panetta, and Marine Corps Col. George Bristol, commander of AFRICOM's Joint Special Operations Task Force for the Trans Sahara region, the testimony shows.
The transcripts underscore that in the earliest hours of the attack, every Pentagon and defense official who briefed the White House referred to the incident as a terrorist attack.
The testimony reinforces ongoing questions about how and why the White House developed a public narrative that the event was an assault that grew spontaneously out of a demonstration over an anti-Islam video produced in America.
The Armed Services subcommittee has conducted nine classified sessions on the Benghazi attacks, according to Fox, and is close to issuing an "interim" report on the affair.
"Leon Panetta should have spoken up," Kim Holmes, former assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush and distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox.
"The people at the Pentagon and frankly, the people at the CIA stood back while all of this was unfolding and allowed this narrative to go on longer than they should have."
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