• Petraeus Says He Knew Benghazi Attack Was Sparked by Terrorists

    by Michael Mathes

    WASHINGTON, Nov 16, 2012 (AFP) – Former CIA chief David Petraeus told lawmakers Friday he knew from the outset that a deadly attack on a US mission in Libya was the work of terrorists, in his first outing since his resignation.

    A bitter political feud has erupted in Washington since the September 11 assault on the Benghazi consulate, with Republican lawmakers accusing President Barack Obama’s administration of misleading the public about its cause.

    Congress has summoned officials to explain why in the days after the attack, which left the US ambassador to Libya and three colleagues dead, they blamed the violence on a spontaneous protest triggered by an anti-Muslim video.

    On September 14, Petraeus apparently told Congress that that was the CIA’s initial take on the events.

    Since then, the administration’s position has evolved, and the attack is now seen as having been a pre-meditated assault by an Al Qaeda-linked militia.

    According to Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, Petraeus — who resigned last week after the revelation of an extramarital affair — had changed his analysis since September.

    “General Petraeus’s testimony today was from the start he had told us this was a terrorist attack or terrorist-involved,” King said.

    “I told him in my questions I had a different recollection of that and the clear impression given was that the overwhelming matter of evidence is that it… arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and was not a terrorist attack.”

    King and other lawmakers said they were grateful for Petraeus’s testimony but they made it clear they still had deep concerns.

    “Many of my questions were answered. Many were not,” said Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Service Committee who sat in on a Benghazi briefing Friday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

    “We’re past the election,” the Republican added. “I think it’s time now for them to lay it all out.”

    Petraeus’s appearance was given added resonance by the circumstances of his surprise fall from grace, and packs of reporters and camera crews were on hand at the US Capitol ahead of the closed-door House and Senate hearings.

    They were left disappointed, as the retired general was able to slip into the hearings without being seen or questioned about his adulterous relationship with his 40-year-old biographer Paula Broadwell.

    King and others said Petraeus only briefly addressed his affair, saying he deeply regretted it and the circumstances around his resignation, and that they had no effect on his testimony.

    The US mission in Benghazi included a large CIA operation, which Petraeus would have overseen before quitting as US spy chief.

    Republicans have accused Washington’s UN envoy Susan Rice of misleading the country by telling Sunday talk shows after the attack that it was part of a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islam video.

    State Department and FBI probes into the attack are currently under way, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to testify before House and Senate hearings once her department finishes a review of events.

    Petraeus briefed House and Senate intelligence committees, but some lawmakers said there was more to the story that needed to be uncovered.

    US lawmakers got their first look Thursday at dramatic real-time video footage of the attack, and McKeon said Clapper aimed to declassify the edited, 45-minute version shown to lawmakers which includes key moments of the assault.

    The hearings have done little to resolve the partisan sparring over the administration’s response, with Republicans strongly hinting at a larger scandal and possible cover-up.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, Saxby Chambliss, said that a “forthright” Petraeus helped clear the air about several details of the attack, but more needed to be done.

    “We’ve still got to determine, number one, how did this group penetrate the facility that we had in Benghazi? And who were these folks? We have a pretty good idea now, we’re getting closer to determining that,” he said.

    Officials believe the assault was carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia militants.

    Critics have seized on Rice’s remarks to argue that the White House misled or even lied to Americans during a heated election season.

    Rice has been floated as a possible successor to Clinton, who is stepping down early next year, but some Republicans threaten to block her nomination.

    But Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, emerged from the Petraeus hearing to insist that Rice used the same unclassified talking points provided to lawmakers.

    “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneous, inspired by the protest at the US embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex,” she read from off the first talking point.

    She also read the point which warned that such an assessment “may change as additional information is collected and analyzed.”

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