The Benghazi Attacks: A Story of Obfuscating and Ignoring Evidence of Jihadi Terrorism in the Land of ‘Arab Spring’

Within hours of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate and the CIA’s nearby secret annex in Benghazi, Libya, intelligence indicating the assault was an act of Islamist jihadi terrorism — very likely involving members of the Libyan Al Qaeda franchise — was transmitted to top policymakers by the CIA, Departments of State and Defense and other Intelligence Community (IC) “assets,” according to intelligence officials who’ve been interviewed by Homeland Security Today since immediately after the deadly assault.

The intelligence was in stark contrast to how the attacks were described in the so-called “talking points” that top administration officials, including President Obama, for more than a week relied on to publicly discuss the attacks. Indeed, the intelligence and the talking points painted two entirely different portraits of who was behind the attacks because what the intelligence revealed about the assailants had been scrubbed.

“The IC’s assessment was not reflected consistently in the public statements made by administration officials, several of whom cited the ongoing investigation, in the week following the attack,” stated the Dec. 30 report on the attacks by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The Committee determined that in the “talking points that were prepared … by the IC for Congress, a line saying ‘we know’ that individuals associated with Al Qaeda or its affiliates participated in the attacks had been changed to say: ‘There are indications that extremists participated,’ dropping the reference to Al Qaeda and its affiliates altogether.”

The Committee further disclosed that while “members of the IC differed over whether or not this information should remain classified, it is nevertheless noteworthy that the analyst who drafted the original talking points — a veteran career analyst in the intelligence community — believed it was appropriate to include a reference to Al Qaeda in the unclassified talking points.”

The Committee said “The senior analyst concluded that the information could be made public because of the claims of responsibility made by Ansar Al Sharia,” an Al Qaeda-tied jihadi group believed led by a dangerous Al Qaeda leader who’d been captured by the US soon after the invasion of Afghanistan, but who in 2007 was turned over to Libya, which freed him several years later.

Two days after the Benghazi attacks, Homeland Security Today first exclusively reported that senior counterterrorism officials tasked with tracking Al Qaeda said intelligence on the terror group’s presence in Libya linking its Libyan franchise to the US Consulate attack indicated that the strike was bigger, stronger and more coordinated than was immediately acknowledged by the Obama administration.

Speaking on strict condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about classified information, officials said an abridgment of intelligence following the attacks — which was coupled to existing IC and Department of Defense (DoD) analyses of the presence of Muslim jihadists and Al Qaeda in Libya — was provided to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her top secret, codeword “Secretary’s Morning Summary” intelligence briefing of Sept. 12, and in subsequent briefings. This highly classified document is the routine morning intelligence briefing that is prepared for the Secretary of State thatalso is disseminated to the White House, National Security Council, other intelligence agencies and policy offices.

The "Secretary’s Morning Summary" is produced by the State Department’s highly regarded Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and includes “INR Current Reports and Analysis.” It’s updated by new summaries that are identified as “Number One," "Number Two," etc. The INR has access to all Intelligence Community products in the course of its production of all-source, finished intelligence.

Both the Secretary of State and the President’s morning intelligence briefings are a compilation of current threat assessments, issues to watch and analytical commentaries that for the most part draw on top secret, codeword intelligence on the most important national security and foreign policy concerns acquired by all US intelligence collection assets, including the most secret communications eavesdropping, imagery and human intelligence collection programs and activities that are relied on to summarize the major national security-related events during the preceding 24 hours.

The Secretary of State’s top secret, codeword intelligence assessments are “to be seen only by individuals formally cleared for” codeword intelligence “and having a strict need to know for the subject.” Additionally, the “Secretary’s Morning Summar[ies]” contain “information [that] will not be used in any publication, message or briefing unless it remains under” the appropriate codeword “controls.”

In her capacity as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice is cleared for access to the “Secretary’s Morning Summary” and is routinely included on its “EXDIS” (Exclusive Distribution) list, as are many other senior administration policymakers.

Truth or deception?

Yet she — and other top administration officials, including President Obama — repeatedly asserted for more than a week after the attacks that the assault stemmed from a spontaneous protest outside the Consulate compound by Libyan Muslims in response to an obscure anti-Islam video, and that there was no indication that the attack was terrorist related.

But as the independent State Department Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) unclassified report on its investigation of the Benghazi assaults concluded, “no protest took place before the [Consulate] and [CIA] Annex attacks,” and that the “series of attacks … began with the sudden penetration of the Special Mission Compound [SMC] by dozens of [heavily] armed attackers.”

More recently, the report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security disclosed that “US personnel [on the ground] saw no indications that there had been a protest prior to the attack.” In fact, the report stated, “the IC had already received conclusive proof via other means that there had been no protest prior to the attack, in the form of video evidence from the facility’s CCTV cameras …”

The Committee’s investigation “also found documentation that one [State Department] Diplomatic Security [DS] agent apparently concluded there had been no protest as early as September 18. On that date, a State Department DS agent who had seen national press reporting about the attacks asked an agent at the DS Command Center in an email, ‘Was there any rioting in Benghazi reported prior to the attack?’ The reply from the Command Center agent: ‘Zip, nothing, nada.’”

The State Department Diplomatic Security Operations Center on the day of the attack, and the day after, respectively stated in the dispatches, “Terrorism Event Notification – Libya,” that the attack was an “initial terrorism incident” and a “terrorist event.”

The Senate Homeland Security Committee’s report scathingly concluded that “Although the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi was recognized as a terrorist attack by the Intelligence Community and personnel at the Department of State from the beginning, administration officials were inconsistent in stating publicly that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack.”

Continuing, the Committee determined that “Senior officials from the IC, the Department of State and the FBI who participated in briefings and interviews with the Committee said they believed the attack on the mission facility in Benghazi to be a terrorist attack immediately or almost immediately after it occurred … there was never any doubt among key officials, including officials in the IC and the Department of State, that the attack … was an act of terrorism.”

Recently resigned CIA Director David Petraeus also said that there was immediate intelligence indicating "significant [jihadist] terrorist involvement" in the Sept. 11 attack on the State Department and CIA’s compounds in Benghazi.

Similarly, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matt Olsen told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs at a Sept. 19, 2012 hearing, “I would say ‘Yes.’ [US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans] were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.”

Agencies and offices responsible for terrorism, including the NCTC, CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis and FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, were immediately involved with gathering information about the attack.

According to the intelligence officials interviewed by Homeland Security Today since Sept. 11, 2012, digests of the intelligence on Muslim jihadists and Al Qaeda ties to the Benghazi attack were contained in the “Top Secret [EXDIS  – Codeword – Channel] Secretary’s Morning Summary” of Sept. 12, and that the President’s morning intelligence briefing, the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, that’s prepared each morning by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, presumably also would have contained the same intelligence that was summarized in the Secretary of State’s Top Secret Morning Summary, which is the equivalent of the PDB.

Rice also has access to the PDB that contained intelligence that Islamist jihadists with likely ties to Al Qaeda were involved in the Benghazi attacks, according to Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Ma).

Intelligence sources told Homeland Security Today shortly after the attack that the same intelligence provided to Clinton was contained in the PDB the morning after the fatal attacks and expanded on in subsequent PDB’s as additional intelligence was analyzed.

John Soloman wrote in the Washington Guardian that intelligence provided to President Obama was “far more specific, more detailed and more current than the unclassified talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice and other officials used five days after the attack to suggest to Americans that an unruly mob angry over an anti-Islamic video was to blame, officials said.” But, he noted, “Most of the details affirming Al Qaeda links were edited or excluded from the unclassified talking points used by Rice in appearances on news programs the weekend after the attack, officials confirmed,” adding that “Multiple agencies were involved in excising information, doing so because it revealed sources and methods, dealt with classified intercepts or involved information that was not yet fully confirmed, the officials said.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 16 that “A CIAanalysis prepared the morning after the attack said that the attack appeared intentional and didn’t appear to stem from a peaceful protest, according to a senior US official. Analysis that day also mentioned the possibility of connections to an Al Qaeda affiliate. However, that information about specific groups involved came from classified sources the subject of debate among intelligence officials, so it was left out of unclassified talking points.”

The State Department’s independent review panel concluded that “The [Benghazi] Special Mission Compound perimeter was breached immediately … There was no advance warning regarding the group of attackers approaching outside the SMC prior to the attack, and no sign of them on surveillance cameras outside the C1 gate until the attack was underway.”

Additionally, the ARB determined that “communication systems on the night of the attacks worked” and that there was “a near-constant information flow among Benghazi, Tripoli and Washington.” The ARB found that “Shortly after receiving the initial notification [of the attack] from Embassy Tripoli … the State Department Operations Center notified the interagency, including the White House, of the Special Mission attack by secure conference call and email alerts.”

“I am told that, yes, it was all reported — in real time — to all principle officers,” and included “a CRITIC type report,” retired US Army Lt. Col. Tony Schaffer, an experienced intelligence officer with 25 years on-the-ground experience, told Homeland Security Today.

Schaffer gained fame for his claims about mishandled intelligence prior to the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks and for the Pentagon’s censoring of his book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory. The book was Schaffer’s account of his six-month stretch as a "black ops" officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Afghanistan. The Defense Department spent $47,000 to purchase the entire print run of the book from St. Martin’s Press weeks before it was to be released, then destroyed all copies. However, about 200 uncensored review copies slipped by the Pentagon, and the book eventually was released after 250 sections were redacted or deleted.

Schaffer commanded and directed several key operational intelligence organizations, including Special Mission Task Force STRATUS IVY that conducted direct support to Defense Department compartmented activities (including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command) focused on offensive information operations. He also was in charge of Field Operating Base (FOB) Alpha, a joint CIA/DIA group that conducted classified intelligence collection and special operations counterterrorism support after 9/11.

“The info would have been provided [instantly to everyone at the highest level] and would likely have been re-capped in the PDB,” according to Gary Berntsen , a decorated former career CIA officer in the Agency’s Directorate of Operations between October 1982 and June 2005 who served as a CIA Chief of Station three times and led a number of the Agency’s most importantcounterterrorism deployments — including the US’s response to the East Africa Embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks.

 “If it wasn’t, then there was a very serious breakdown in well established procedures,” one of the senior intelligence sources who spoke to Homeland Security Today on background exclaimed.

Indeed. As Berntsen told Fox News on Oct. 20, “I was a Chief of Station three different times, so I’ve done this before.” He said the intelligence “going back to Washington DC goes to CIA headquarters, but it also goes to the Situation Room in the White House. It goes to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department. It goes to the military committee — it goes to all of them … When you’re a Chief of Station and you’re in a crisis, you fire out to the entire community and they all get it immediately.”

The intelligence contained in both Clinton and Obama’s morning intelligence briefings originally went to the State Department’s INR watch staff and White House National Security Staff/Executive Office of the President, as well as military intelligence components, so “It is inconceivable to me that with all the info that was flowing back through multiple channels that Washington was not aware from the outset that this was an assault, not a demonstration gone awry,” Charles Faddis, a career CIA Operations Directorate counterterrorism expert and head of the Agency’s WMD counterterrorism unit when he retired in 2008, told Homeland Security Today.

Faddis added: “I don’t think the administration sat down and formulated a cover-up. I do think they heard what they wanted to hear and continued to try to spin the story in such as way as to fit with their vision of a new Middle East post-Arab Spring.”

Intelligence sources said INR analysts would have been remiss in not including in Clinton’s morning briefings the intelligence indicating the Benghazi attacks were carried out by Muslim jihadists or Al Qaeda adherents in Libya, and, for that matter, IC counterterrorism analysts not including the intelligence in the President’s PDB.

Officials familiar with the Secretary of State’s morning intelligence briefings said given the intelligence and the reports that were being transmitted to INR analysts at State Department headquarters by the Benghazi Consulate security staff, dispatches by CIA officers and other human intelligence assets and intercepts of electronic communications and other “special intelligence” before and during the attack, when combined with all the other available intelligence on Islamist jihadists and Al Qaeda in Benghazi that INR analysts were privy to, they find “it nearly inconceivable” that the analysts “didn’t include” the intelligence in Clinton’s Morning Summaries.

“I just can’t imagine that,” one said.

It’s unclear whether any of the cables and other highly classified documents that the State Department has made available to senior members of the House and Senate included Clinton’s top secret morning intelligence briefings in the days following the Benghazi attacks.

Similarly, it’s also unclear whether the intelligence briefings were among documents provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during closed door hearings on the attacks, although at least one congressional staffer confirmed to Homeland Security Today prior to the briefings that the State Department would be asked for Clinton’s Sept. 12 and subsequent morning intelligence briefings.

However, Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told Homeland Security Today, “I think it is quite unusual for this internal State publication to be shared. The concern is that distribution could impinge on the relationship between the Secretary and her intelligence staff, limiting candor in an unhelpful way. I don’t know if it is unprecedented, but it is certainly unusual” for contemporary Secretary’s Morning Summar[ies] to be turned over pursuant to congressional requests.

“That same concern is even more intense with respect to PDBs, which are among the most tightly held classified documents in the government, Aftergood added.

But while PDBs apparently weren’t physically made available to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, according to Sen. Collins, someone within the administration told the panel that the PDBs did contain highly classified intelligence on jihadists involved in the Benghazi assaults.

Jihadists in Libya no surprise

Both CIA and Pentagon counterterrorism intelligence officials certainly had long been well aware of the presence and activities of both Islamist jihadist and Al Qaeda loyal terrorists — many of whom belong to Ansar Al Sharia (AAS), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Egyptian-based Muhammad Jamal — operating in the Benghazi region, a known hotbed of Islamist fundamentalism.

AAS is a Salafist-jihadist militia based in Benghazi believed led by a former Al Qaeda chieftain who’d been captured in 2003 and transferred to the Defense Department-ran terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo, but released to Libya in 2007 despite being deemed by DoD as a “high” terrorist risk.

Senior intelligence officials told Homeland Security Today that there was “considerable” intelligence about the activities of Islamist jihadists and Al Qaeda in the Benghazi area, and that within hours of the attacks numerous intelligence reports had been relayed to the CIA and Departments of State and Defense stating that there was a “high-probability” that Muslim jihadists were involved in the attacks. The authors’ of the intelligence reports also indicated they believed the attacks were pre-planned and “obviously well coordinated,” as one official remarked. Much of the real-time intelligence upon which the reports were based included analysis of electronic communications intercepts and other “special intelligence” collection activities targeting members of Al Qaeda in Libya and other known Islamist jihadists.

As part of Defense Department counterterrorists’ all-source intelligence collection process, last August, a 54-page Library of Congress (LoC) open source intelligence report, Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile, was prepared by LoC’s Federal Research Division on contract to the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office’s Irregular Warfare Support Program. Although not officially made available to the public, this open source (OSINT) intelligence report is shocking with regard to what was publicly known  about Al Qaeda in Libya, and which, when combined with classified intelligence on the terror group’s presence and activities, would allow for some pretty definitive analytical extrapolations to be made.

Yet, the State Department’s independent review of the tragedy in Benghazi concluded that while “Terrorist networks are difficult to monitor … The [ARB] found that there was a tendency on the part of policy, security and other US government officials to rely heavily on the probability of warning intelligence and on the absence of specific threat information.”

“The result,” the ARB determined, “was possibly to overlook the usefulness of taking a hard look at accumulated, sometimes circumstantial information, and instead to fail to appreciate threats and understand trends, particularly based on increased violence and the targeting of foreign diplomats and international organizations in Benghazi. The latter information failed to come into clear relief against a backdrop of the lack of effective governance, widespread and growing political violence and instability and the ready availability of weapons in eastern Libya. There were US assessments thatprovided situational awareness on the persistent, general threat to US and Western interests in eastern Libya, including Benghazi. Board members, however, were struck by the lack of discussion [among top policymakers] focused specifically on Benghazi.”

Nevertheless, the Accountability Review Board’s report stated that while “gaps existed in the Intelligence Community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to US interests … some threats [nevertheless] were known to exist.”

The Board noted that “Jihadis from Benghazi engaged in Afghanistan against the Soviets and took up arms against US forces in the post-2003 Iraq insurgency,” and that “Many of them reemerged in 2011 as leaders of anti-Qaddafi militias in eastern Libya.”

“At the time of the September attacks, Benghazi remained a lawless town” that “in reality [was] run by a diverse group of local Islamist militias,” the ARB found.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee’s report further noted that “While such groups do not always have strong operational ties to Al Qaeda, they [nevertheless] adhere to a similar violent Islamist extremist ideology,” noting that the “unclassified August 2012 report by the Library of Congress” had pointed out that “AAS in Libya shares common symbols (the black flag) and ideology with Al Qaeda.”

The report emphasized that the “Committee has spent several years focusing on the role that this ideology plays in motivating homegrown violent Islamist extremists, most of whom have no direct ties to Al Qaeda.”

The Pentagon-contracted report’s preface stated that “Al Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have sought to take advantage of the Libyan Revolution to recruit militants and to reinforce their operational capabilities in an attempt to create a safe haven and possibly to extend their area of operations to Libya … AQSL is seeking to create an Al Qaeda clandestine network in Libya that could be activated … to destabilize the government and/or to offer logistical support to Al Qaeda’s activities,” and that “AQIM has reportedly formed sleeper cells that are probably connected to an Al Qaeda underground network in Libya.”

“AQSL in Pakistan issued strategic guidance to followers in Libya and elsewhere to take advantage of the Libyan rebellion,” the report for DoD said. “AQSL’s strategic guidance was to:

  • Gather weapons;
  • Establish training camps;
  • Build a network in secret;
  • Establish an Islamic state, and
  • Institute sharia.

Furthermore, the LoC’s analysts reported, “AQSL in Pakistan dispatched trusted senior operatives as emissaries and leaders who could supervise building a network,” and that “Al Qaeda has established a core network in Libya, but it remains clandestine and refrains from using the Al Qaeda name.”

“Ansar Al Sharia, led by Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamouda [Bin Qumu], a former Guantanamo detainee, has increasingly embodied Al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse and hatred of the West, especially the United States,” the report said, noting that “Al Qaeda adherents in Libya used the 2011 Revolution to establish well-armed, well-trained and combat-experienced militias. Militia groups, led by Wisam Ben Hamid and Hayaka Alla, have adopted similar behavior, with, however, fewer advertised grudges against the West.”

Continuing, the LoC report stated “The Al Qaeda clandestine network is … running training camps and … will likely continue to mask its presence under the umbrella of the Libyan Salafist movement, with which it shares a radical ideology and a general intent to implement sharia in Libya and elsewhere.”

The report added: “Al Qaeda affiliates such as AQIM are also benefiting from the situation in Libya,” and AQIM has “likely join[ed] hands with the Al Qaeda clandestine network in Libya …” that “is highly likely to recruit and train local and foreign jihadists …”

“Although Al Qaeda Senior Leadership, based in Pakistan, is most likely building a clandestine network in Libya,” the report continued, “Al Qaeda may remain for some time without an official Libyan affiliate, as the terrorist organization continues to prize secrecy …”

Despite hurriedly transmitted emails from unidentified State Department officials to senior State Department, White House, DoD, counterterrorism and other officials with intelligence responsibilities, alerting that Ansar Al Sharia almost immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, intelligence sources said Al Qaeda operatives in Libya were being very careful not to openly talk about the terror group’s involvement, which tends to comport with the LoC analysts’ conclusions about Al Qaeda’s secretiveness about its Libyan activities.

What is clear is that the Intelligence Community’s all-source analysis was pretty conclusive regarding Al Qaeda and jihadist-motivated Islamists’ entrenchment in Libya before and during the 9/11 attacks in Benghazi, and that the intelligence behind these analyses were well known inside the State Department, White House and DoD, and had been reflected in various intelligence assessments for Clinton, Obama and top policymakers cleared to receive the intelligence.

Knowing what she did about the intelligence on Al Qaeda and Islamist jihadists in Libya before and after the Benghazi attacks, Rice’s statements about the circumstances of the attacks raise legitimate questions about why she framed — on behalf of the administration — her claims in a manner that was so at odds with what was known, and what the administration should have presumed would be gleaned by congressional oversight committees, former intelligence officials and the media.

The official account unravels, and a failure of vision

While it’s easy to understand why certain Intelligence Community officials felt the need to avoid discussion about anything that might be construed to indicate classified sources and methods of intelligence about the perpetrators of the attacks — or Al Qaeda’s presence in Libya — the administration’s so-called “talking points” could have been written in such a way as to reflect the reality of what the intelligence and analyses revealed without compromising any special intelligence — the administration’s professed reasoning for not including this intelligence in its so-called “talking points.”

But Rice’s almost “off the cuff” claims were far removed from what’s now known that she and other top administration officials really knew, which in and of itself raises questions about why she – whether on orders or on her own – strayed so far afield from the truth, and which has nothing to do with some clearly politically motivated Democrats’ assertions that asking such questions are inherently racist; which is absurd on its face in light of the glaring conflicts between what she claimed and what she knew and has since admitted to senior lawmakers that she knew.

Top administration officials reportedly have conceded that the classified intelligence removed from Rice’s “sanitized” talking points (ostensibly to protect intelligence sources and methods) on what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, at odds with the administration’s claims that a spontaneous, unruly Muslim “mob” had violently reacted to an anti-Islam video; to which, it was added – and implied – Al Qaeda couldn’t have been involved with the “mob” because, as Rice had said, the international terrorist organization has largely been “decimated.”

First of all, the evidence – especially classified intelligence – clearly shows (and IC sources confirmed) that Al Qaeda has not been decimated. Far from it. So why even include such a statement in her immediate post-Benghazi attack talking head interviews?

Second, on-the-ground eyewitness accounts of the attacks indicating either Al Qaeda, or – at the very least — well-armed jihadists were behind the attacks, hardly constitutes secret intelligence.

Third, there was little, if any, conclusive evidence that the obscure anti-Islam video was a contributing factor for the attacks, even if the attackers had, as Rice claimed, participated in a spontaneous protest at the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Fourth and fifth, a spontaneous “mob” likely would not have been in possession of the munitions that the attackers used, least of all been trained to use them. But they did possess such weapons, knew how to use them and attacked in a manner that analysts undoubtedly recognized without having to have had the benefit of secret intelligence that the attackers understood tactics and had a plan articulately developed for the attacks well in advance.

So, why all the obfuscation; the unnecessary straying to avoid compromising classified intelligence; the unnecessary references to Al Qaeda being “decimated;” the administration’s who’s on first back and forth on who did, and didn’t, prepare the talking points; the almost purposeful avoidance of references to jihadists in general; the seemingly incomprehensible ignorance behind not understanding that the glaring conflicts between what happened and the administration’s official story wouldn’t survive washing; the equally incomprehensible apparent misunderstanding that reasoning observers – including congressional overseers  – wouldn’t investigate and ask questions; and, the seemingly illogical assumption that in a town of leakages, indications of the truth wouldn’t trickle out from behind the dam that seems to have been erected to contain the truth?

These logically assumptive questions arise from the backdrop of what is now known about the Benghazi quagmire, and beg even more questions than there so far have been answers for.

Equally disturbing, but not at all surprising, was the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s finding that “The lack of … actionable intelligence [on the attacks] may reflect a failure in the IC to focus sufficiently on terrorist groups that have weak or no operational ties to core Al Qaeda and its main affiliates," but share the same fundamentalist Islamist jihadi ideology.

The Obama administration has repeated been faulted for failing to officially acknowledge that the ideology of extremist fundamentalist Muslim Islamists is the same as Al Qaeda’s.

“The activities of local terrorist and Islamist extremist groups in Libya may have received insufficient attention from the IC prior to the attack, partially because some of the groups possessed ambiguous operational ties to core Al Qaeda and its primary affiliates,” the Senate Homeland Security’s investigation concluded, adding: “While such groups do not always have strong operational ties to Al Qaeda, they adhere to a similar violent Islamist extremist ideology.”

The Committee’s Benghazi investigation report noted that the “Committee has spent several years focusing on the role that this ideology plays in motivating homegrown violent Islamist extremists, most of whom have no direct ties to Al Qaeda,” but the IC apparently “was ‘not focused’ on” extremist Islamist groups “to the same extent as core Al Qaeda and its operational affiliates.”

And “This finding,” the Committee warned, “has broader implications for US counterterrorism activities in the Middle East and North Africa. With Osama Bin Laden dead and core Al Qaeda weakened, a new collection of violent Islamist extremist organizations and cells have emerged in the last two to three years.”

In addition, the Committee was especially critical of the administration for not having designated the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist extremist group, Ansar Al Sharia, “as a foreign terrorist organization.” Despite disturbing intelligence on Qumu’s ties to Al Qaeda, the Committee saidadministration officials viewed AAS prior to the attack as merely “a local extremist group with an eye on gaining political ground in Libya.’”

But “public statements by Libyan officials and many news reports have indicated that” the group … was one of the key groups involved in carrying out [the] attack on the US facility in Benghazi,” the Committee said.

The release of a dangerous GITMO detainee

There was every reason to have honed intelligence assets in on AAS.

On Sept. 19, before the disclosure that State Department officials emailed top administration national security policymakers the day of the attack to report the group had claimed responsibility for the assault, Fox News reported “intelligence sources [said they] are convinced the deadly attack was directly tied to Al Qaeda and that Qumu was involved.

Almost immediately, though, the administration rejected assertions that there were any indications of Qumu’s involvement, despite his connection to the group officials said claimed responsibility and other intelligence indicating the group was involved. Mother Jones magazine reported “a US national security official told it that ‘that report is wrong; there’s no intelligence suggesting that he was leading the attack on the consulate that evening.’ The official insisted there was no evidence that [Qumu] ‘directed, coordinated or planned’ the attack.

There’d been a similar reaction right after the leak of the State Department email saying Ansar Al Sharia had claimed responsibility. The email, sent the day of the attack, carried the subject line, "Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack." It stated "Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli."

While the email clearly wasn’t in and of itself the smoking gun many largely conservative administration critics said it was, liberal administration supporters were just as quick to call into question the accuracy of the email, as well as whether the terrorist group had, indeed, claimed responsibility — the jury is still out on the matter. Clinton herself quickly dismissed the claim, saying, "Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence. I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be."

But as it would later be learned, the group, and its leader, are heavily involved in anti-American jihadist activity in Libya, and likely did have something to do with the attack.

The DoD-contracted Library of Congress report said AAS “has increasingly embodied Al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse and hatred of the West, especially the United States.”

And, according to the classified April 22, 2005 Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detainee (JTF GITMO) Assessment of Qumu, he’d been “assessed” to be “a high risk … likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies” if he was ever released.

The “secret” assessment said he “is assessed as a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a probable member of Al Qaeda, and a member of the North African Extremist Network (NAEN)” who “used his employment at the Wafa Humanitarian Organization (Al Wafa) as a front for extremist activities.”

On Sept. 24, 2001, Al Wafa was designated by the United States as “a key Saudi charity and Pakistan-based organization financing Al Qaeda,” and “a militant supporter of the Taliban.” The US said documents found in the group’s offices in Afghanistan “revealed that the charity was intimately involved in assassination plots against US citizens as well as the distribution of ‘how to’ manuals on chemical and biological warfare.”

US officials described the group “as a key component of Bin Laden’s organization.”

The UN Security Council designated Al Wafa “as being associated with Al Qaeda, Usama Bin Laden or the Taliban” on Oct. 6, 2001.

According to the JTF GITMO assessment of Qumu, intelligence and analysis showed “He traveled to Afghanistan and trained at Usama Bin Laden’s Torkham [training] Camp,” and “After participating in the Soviet jihad … moved to Sudan” where he “worked as a truck driver for Wadi Al’ Aqiq, one of Bin Laden’s companies in Sudan.”

According to an “Analyst note … The Qadhafi Organization [also known as the Libyan Humanitarian Organization] operated out of the Libyan Embassy and worked to secure transportation to Libya for any Arab fleeing the region, including Al Qaeda members.”

Qumu’s detainee report further stated that he “has a long-term association with Islamic extremist jihad and members of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups,” and had “refuse[d] to disclose complete information regarding his past, associates and activities.”

Nevertheless, the secret report said Qumu “has known or suspected associations to” numerous NAEN or LIFG members. An “Analyst note” said “NAEN is a Tier 0 Counterterrorism Target defined as terrorist groups which pose a clear and immediate danger to US persons or interests,” and that “The LIFG is a Tier 1 Counterterrorism target defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.”

Qumu, his JTF GITMO assessment stated, had “admitted or … alleged associations with numerous extremist elements and  personalities,” including Al Qaeda “facilitator”Ayyub Al Libi and Abu Zubaydah, another “Al Qaeda/LIFG facilitator” who “recognized [Qumu] as a former member of the LIFG … Abu Zubaydah stated he provided [Qumu] with a false Iraqi passport at the request of Abu Jaffar Al Iraqi in 1999.”

Zubaydah is considered a “high value” Al Qaeda intimate. He’s been in US custody at GITMO since he was captured by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002.

Ibn Sheikh Al Libi, an Al Qaeda training camp director, also “identified” Qumu, the JTF GITMO assessment said. Al Libi led Al Qaeda’s Al Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan where 9/11 plotter, Zacarias Moussaoui, and foiled 2000 millennium bomber, Ahmed Ressam, trained.

Qumu was captured shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan and imprisoned for six years at GITMO.

He was captured at the Plaza Hotel in Peshawar where he was staying after Pakistani police were tipped off to his location by Libyan nationals from the Libyan Humanitarian Organization. He “was then turned over to US forces.” In 2007, however, he was released from GITMO and turned over to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime on the condition that he be kept in prison.

But three years later, in 2010, Gaddafi released him, along with 37 other prisoners, to celebrate his 41st year in power.

It was during the uprising against the long time Libyan strongman that Qumu emerged as a leader of the jihadist Ansar Al Sharia.

In the Spring of 2005, JTF GTMO originally recommended that Qumu be transferred to the control of another country for continued detention, but in August 2003 “assessed” that Qumu should remain in DoD custody.

By April 2005, though, “Based upon [as yet publicly disclosed] information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment,” it was “now recommended [that Qumu] be transferred to the control of” Libya, “his country of origin,” on the condition that “a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence.”

It was also determined that “If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached for his continued detention in Libya, he should be retained under DoD control.”

Analysis

Whether Qumu or Ansar Al Sharia played a role in the attacks or not, what seems evident from the intelligence, the State Department and Senate investigations, and all the classified briefings, is that there was a growing Islamist jihadi threat brewing in an around Benghazi that wasn’t necessarily given due attention by the administration, because it was focused on Al Qaeda proper. As one counterterrorism official said, "and that missed the point." And the point is, Islamist jihadist ideology is virtually indistinguishable from the Islamist jihadist ideology that drives Al Qaeda. It’s one and the same, no matter what organizational name a group of jihadists rally beneath.

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