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Libya attack: Not a problem of intelligence (+video)

Questions linger about the way the Obama Administration presented intelligence information following a violent attack in Benghazi, Libya last month. It appears now that from very early in their investigation U.S. officials had information implicating organized militants.

By Mark Hosenball and Tabassum ZakariaReuters / October 3, 2012

This Sept. 12 file photo shows a man walking through a room in the gutted US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Ibrahim Alaguri/AP/File

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WASHINGTON

Within hours of last month's attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama's administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.

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Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top U.S. officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.

It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to U.S. policymakers had "evolved" into an acknowledgement that the attacks were "deliberate and organized" and "carried out by extremists."

The existence of the early reports appears to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration's public messaging about the attack as it seeks to fend off Republican charges that the White House failed to prevent a terrorist strike that left a U.S. ambassador and three others dead.

"What we're seeing now is the picture starting to develop that it wasn't a problem with the intelligence that was given, it's what they did with the intelligence that they were given," Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday.

"This picture is still a little fuzzy but it is starting to come into focus and it appears that there were, very early on, some indications that there was jihadist participation in the event," he said.

The Obama administration has strongly defended its public accounts of what happened in Benghazi, and said its understanding has evolved as additional information came in.

"At every step of the way, the administration has based its public statements on the best assessments that were provided by the intelligence community. As the intelligence community learned more information, they updated Congress and the American people on it," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Some officials said U.S. spy agencies tried to avoid drawing premature conclusions about how the violence began and who organized it.

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