President Obama’s spokesman now says that it is “self-evident” that the attack on the embassy in Libya, which claimed the life of a U.S. ambassador and other Americans, was “a terrorist attack,” in which al-Qaeda may have had a hand.
“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. “Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self evident.”
Carney said that intelligence suggests al-Qaeda involvement, but he refused to attach significance to the fact that it took place on September 11. “The attack occurred on Sept 11, 2012, so we use the same calendar at the White House as you do and yes, [Obama] sees it, I will simply point you to the testimony of Mr. Olsen and he says based on the information that they have now, and this is an ongoing investigation, their judgement is that it was an opportunistic attack in which elements, including possible elements of al-Qaeda in the Magreb, participated.”
Carney’s matter-of-fact statement is a bit of a departure from days of pleading ignorance about the attack.
“It’s too early for us to make that judgment,” Carney said on September 12, the day after the attack, when asked if it appeared premeditated. “I think — I know that this is being investigated, and we’re working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. So I would not want to speculate on that at this time.” Asked in that same briefing if he was worried about al-Qaeda, Carney replied, “I want to be careful about making statements that are based on speculation about this incident and its causes.”
Later in the week, Carney again suggested that the attack in Libya resulted from anger over the video. “We don’t know otherwise,” he said. “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack. The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy.”
All the while, Libyan officials claimed that it was a terrorist attack connected to al-Qaeda. Here is how a reporter confronted Carney with their accounts on Tuesday: “It seems that the U.S. and Libya have sort of different accounts of the attack in Benghazi last week. There are reports that Libyan officials warned the U.S. of the growing extremist threat prior to the attacks, that they admitted they could not control some of these militias. That seems to run counter to what administration officials have been saying, that this was just a spontaneous reaction to this anti-Islam film.”
Carney replied, Well, what I can tell you is that we have provided information about what we believe was the precipitating cause of the protest and the violence, based on the information that we have had available. There is an ongoing investigation. The FBI is investigating. And that investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Then, yesterday, a national security official got off-message during a hearing on the Hill. “I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the National Counterterrorism Center director, told the Senate.
And today, Carney concurs.