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At Hearing, Libya Attack Details Remain Murky

By Alexis Simendinger - October 11, 2012

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-- Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy, a diplomat who has served under every president from Richard Nixon to Obama, conceded he told colleagues shortly after the assault that he believed it was “a complex attack,” not the work of a random mob. He told the committee there were “multiple reports” at the outset with different conclusions, although he would not describe those reports to lawmakers in public testimony because he said the information was classified. Kennedy denied he was pressured politically. “On my honor, no -- none -- political pressure was applied to me in this case by anyone at the State Department, at the National Security Council, or at the White House,” he said.

-- Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who served at the Benghazi compound as the Site Security Team commander until weeks before the assault and is a critic of some State Department security decisions, told the committee, “It was instantly recognizable to me as a terrorist attack. . . . We were the last flag flying. It was a matter of time.”

-- Witnesses hinted at, and Republican lawmakers suggested in their questioning, that the U.S. intelligence community, not the State Department, triggered the false reports of a Libyan mob that supposedly burst into the consulate to kill Americans because of the anti-Muslim video.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said he and Rice, acting with an abundance of “transparency” and “limited facts,” initially communicated preliminary and contradictory conclusions in September about what led up to the Benghazi raid -- conclusions furnished to them by “the intelligence community.”

He said “no one is more interested in finding out exactly what happened in Benghazi than the president of the United States.” Obama has called the events an act of terror, and Carney suggested the perpetrators, whatever their affiliations or motivations, are by definition terrorists. “An assault with violence and force and weapons against a diplomatic facility is by definition an act of terror,” he said.

State Department officials testified Wednesday that “dozens” of “extremists” who were well armed and prepared for battle stormed the large American compound and waged a violent overnight battle using diesel fuel, gunfire and well-aimed mortars. From Tripoli, a U.S. security team was flown to Benghazi as backup as the battled raged, supplemented by “a large number” of Libyan government security officers who assisted the Americans as they evacuated the site.

Although administration officials did not refer to the attackers as “terrorists” during their testimony, they did not contradict Republican members of the committee who did. The deaths of the Americans are under investigation by the FBI and the Libyan government, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created a blue-ribbon Accountability Review Board to investigate any security failures that contributed to the outcome of the attack.

Members of the panel from both parties offered effusive praise to Clinton for her cooperation with Congress and her vow to learn the lessons of Benghazi to better protect all U.S. personnel working abroad. 

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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