The report focused on the role of local militias and a spontaneous protest sparked by anger over an anti-Islamic film. That conclusion though directly contradicts the interim findings of a House GOP-led investigation that unequivocally states that “militias composed of al Qaeda-affiliated extremists attacked U.S. interests in Benghazi.”
While what constitutes “al Qaeda ties” is interpreted differently from one intelligence source to another, key Democrats in the past also reached far different conclusions about al Qaeda's connection to the attack than the Times article.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., was asked during a press conference on Nov. 16 if initial briefings by U.S. intelligence agencies described Benghazi as a “terrorist attack.”
“Yes. Clearly that was said at all times because of the people involved in the group were affiliates of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups,” said Ruppersberger.
Ruppersberger was asked if the initial description of Benghazi was a terror attack contradicted the administration’s claim that the violence was the result of a spontaneous demonstration provoked by an anti-Islamic film.
“Well, I think if you look at the facts and what we learned yesterday is as far as the film is concerned, the first incident was a lot different than the second incident in the annex,” he responded. “When you look and see what was there, you had individuals coming into the compound who were looting. There was no command and control evaluating where we're going to go, how we're going to go. But there also were people that were attacking and putting buildings on fire.
“But the second incident - that was entirely different,” Ruppersberger continued. “That was well-organized, [you can see] command and control, and that people who had experience in attacking and are al Qaeda and other extremists. They knew how to shoot mortars and hit targets.”
Statements from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., were more careful and evolved over time.
On November 18, 2012 a little more than two months after the attacks, Feinstein told NBC's “Meet the Press” that intelligence officials told her in closed briefings that they were reluctant to name any particular terrorist group without being certain of its involvement. But she said it was clear that the assault was a terrorist attack by definition, even though the administration didn't consistently label it as such in the initial weeks.
“I do know that the answer given to us is we didn't want to name a group until we had some certainty. Well, where this went awry is anybody that brings weapons and mortars and RPGs and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist, in my view. I mean, that's pretty clear,” said Feinstein.
Later, a CBS News report on Dec. 2, 2012 quoted Feinstein as saying the CIA edited the administration's initial Benghazi talking points and removed references to al Qaeda's role because the agency feared compromising a contact or security.
“And so al Qaeda was pulled out of it,” she said.
“I do not believe the intelligence community should prepare these talking points,” she added.
Feinstein's committee has concluded its investigation into Benghazi and plans to release its final report in early 2014.