By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate intelligence committee on Thursday said it will hold hearings in November on security and intelligence issues raised by the September 11 attacks on American facilities in Libya.
In a statement, the committee said it first will hold a closed oversight hearing on November 15 on the Benghazi attacks, when lawmakers return after the November 6 presidential and congressional elections. The Democratic-controlled panel said additional hearings would follow.
Some Senate Republicans have said the committee should hold public hearings on the response to the attacks, in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American officials were killed.
The committee, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein, said it had received briefings and documents related to the attacks
It said aspects under investigation include how U.S. intelligence and threat information relating to Libya and other Middle East countries was handled before September 11, when and how such information was disseminated, and how government agencies responded to the information.
The committee will also examine what the U.S. government knows about what occurred during the attacks, who is believed to have been responsible for them, and what the United States is doing to track down and hold the perpetrators responsible.
The committee said it will also examine security at the State Department and U.S. facilities in the Middle East and North Africa to determine whether existing measures are sufficient.
The committee will also examine whether U.S. intelligence agencies are well-enough funded and staffed with people with appropriate skills to properly operate in the Middle East and North Africa.
The response to the September 11 attacks in Libya has become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
President Barack Obama's Republican critics have suggested that the administration's handling of the incident raises questions about its truthfulness and competence, even as Obama and his Democratic supporters are touting his success in cracking down on Islamic militants, including the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Republicans question why administration officials publicly played up intelligence suggesting that the Benghazi attacks grew from spontaneous demonstrations launched by militants against a short film lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.
Republicans also want to hear why the administration mentioned, but played down, intelligence suggesting the involvement of militants with suspected connections to al Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers.
A State Department email made public earlier this week showed that two hours after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission compound in Benghazi, the Department's Operations Center advised officials at various U.S. agencies that a militant group called Ansar al Sharia had claimed credit on Twitter and Facebook for the attacks.
U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday said that such internet postings did not constitute hard evidence of who was responsible for the attacks.
The State Department has set up an independent review board to investigate the background and response to the Benghazi attacks.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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