As the Obama Administration’s account of the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate continues to evolve, disturbing new information has emerged about the consulate’s security environment.
Two House Republicans say they have been informed by whistleblowers that the consulate was attacked or threatened 13 times before the September 11 attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R–CA) and Jason Chaffetz (R–UT), the chairman of the national security subcommittee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday asking for more information on these allegations and on reports that the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi but was turned down by officials in Washington.
Clinton responded in a letter and pledged to cooperate with Congress in providing information, but she urged the congressmen not to make any final conclusions about the attack until after the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which has not yet met, finishes its work.
Issa has indicated that the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the issue on October 10.
The Obama Administration’s faltering and disjointed response to the consulate attack also prompted all 19 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to request more information and another briefing from the State Department in a letter on Friday. Clearly there is growing bipartisan discomfort with the Administration’s fumbling response to the attacks, which it initially dismissed as a spontaneous backlash against a video movie trailer for a yet-unseen movie on the life of Muhammad.
But there is also a growing suspicion that the Administration has been spinning its responses to the crisis for political purposes. Former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke for many Americans when he told Sean Hannity in an interview yesterday that “it looks like the administration’s been involved in a cover up claiming that it was all caused by this YouTube video, when in fact, it was clearly the result of the developments with respect to al-Qaeda and terrorism in North Africa. The battle is not over by any means.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence officials investigating the September 11 attack are now focusing on an Egyptian Islamist extremist with long ties to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have traced several fighters who took part in the attack to Libyan training camps run by Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, who has reportedly sought to launch an al-Qaeda affiliate and has secured funding from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaeda faction based in Yemen.
As noted in a Foundry blog post on September 13, Zawahiri had called for attacks to avenge the death of his chief lieutenant, Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan who was killed in a drone attack in Pakistan in June. Although U.S. intelligence agencies increasingly appear to be focusing on an al-Qaeda connection to the Benghazi attack, the Obama Administration’s political appointees have been slow to acknowledge this possibility, which undermines their narrative about the dismantling of al-Qaeda.