Top Intelligence Office: Blame Us, Not White House, for Libya Flap

Kate Hicks

9/29/2012 9:42:00 AM - Kate Hicks

The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi have provided no small headache for the Obama administration, but top intelligence officials appears to be stepping in to take the fall for the messaging debacle. In the days after the attacks, President Obama and others speaking on the issue blamed a YouTube video for the violence; it has since come to light that that was not the case.

But don't blame the White House, says the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- it has claimed responsibility for the faulty explanation:

Extremists from groups linked to al Qaida struck the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack,” the top U.S. intelligence agency said Friday, as it took responsibility for the Obama administration’s initial claims that the deadly assault grew from a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.

The unusual statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence appeared to have two goals: updating the public on the latest findings of the investigation into the assault, and shielding the White House from a political backlash over its original accounts.

“In the immediate aftermath (of the assault), there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo,” spokesman Sean Turner said in the statement. “We provided that initial assessment to executive branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates and sets policies for the 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies, is led by retired Air Force Gen. James Clapper, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in August 2010. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the assault staged by scores of assault rifle- and rocket-propelled grenade-toting assailants on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Now, this doesn't seem to jive with a host of reports that have surfaced in recent days, which claim that the White House knew from the start that the embassy incident was a terrorist attack. As Guy wrote yesterday, the administration had the truth early on, but persisted in pushing the "spontaneous protests" story to downplay potential negative impact on Obama's foreign policy record. Now, a top intelligence agency is taking the fall and attempting to shift blame for the story away from the White House, but something isn't adding up. And after all, in the end, it falls on the Obama administration to own the truth as soon as they have it, rather than cling to a defunct, convenient lie.