White House pressured to tell more about Benghazi attack

Nearly two weeks after the attack in Libya that killed the US ambassador, it remains unclear what prompted it or the degree to which Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization was involved. Critics say President Obama needs to explain and respond more fully to what happened.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
President Obama speaks at a campaign rally at the Henry Maier Festival in Milwaukee Saturday. Critics say Mr. Obama needs to explain more fully the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

President Obama is under increasing pressure to explain and respond more fully to the Sept. 11 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the American ambassador and three other embassy personnel were killed.

“The president needs to go on TV and set this right. It can’t be about the election. It has to be about an American ambassador who was killed,” Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “He needs to be out front and leading on this issue. He shouldn’t wait until after November.”

Over on “Fox News Sunday,” Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was pushing back against critics who say the administration's message on the issue has been conflicted or confusing.

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"Absolutely no one intentionally or unintentionally misled anybody involved in this," Mr. Gibbs said. “Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this more than the president and the secretary of State so that we can protect our missions and our consulates throughout the world and remain engaged.”

Nearly two weeks after the attack in Benghazi, it remains unclear what prompted it or the degree to which Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization was involved.

Early on, the Obama administration said the protest against a crude US-made anti-Islam YouTube video “seems to have been hijacked … by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons," as UN Ambassador Susan Rice said last Sunday. In other words, it wasn’t a coordinated, pre-planned attack but something more spontaneous for which there was no “actionable intelligence,” as Ambassador Rice put it, that might have alerted officials able to protect against it.

Since then, White House officials have acknowledged that it was a sophisticated “terrorist attack.” Meanwhile, news reports have suggested that there was no video-related anti-US protest before the armed attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three other men.

"I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time," Rep. Mike Rogers said on CNN Sunday. "It was clearly designed to be an attack."

Concern about security in Benghazi is at the heart of a controversy over CNN’s reporting information it found in Mr. Stevens’s journal several days after he was killed.

Based on journal entries, CNN said that Stevens was concerned about security threats in Benghazi and a "rise in Islamic extremism." The public has a right to know what CNN learned from "multiple sources" about fears and warnings of a terror threat before the Benghazi attack, the channel said, "which are now raising questions about why the State Department didn't do more to protect Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel."

State Department officials are furious that CNN used Stevens’s journal entries in its reports, apparently against the wishes of the late ambassador’s family.

State Department spokesman Philippe Reines called CNN's actions "indefensible."

"Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, e-mail it around your newsroom for others to read, and then call the family?" Mr. Reines asked.

Whether or not Al Qaeda was behind the attack on the US consulate, the organization has cooperated with terrorist groups worldwide including “The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.” In a 2008 cable made public by WikiLeaks, Stevens himself described the Libyan port city of Derna (in the eastern part of the country, as is Benghazi) as "a wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters" for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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