By Jeremy Herb - 09/29/12 11:57 AM EDT
The spokesman for the director of National Intelligence issued a statement Friday that appeared to try and explain why the Obama administration position has shifted on the events of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Shawn Turner, spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said in the statement that new information led to a revised assessment indicating the Libya attack was a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack” carried out by groups affiliated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda, after intelligence had initially pointed to the attack being connected to protests.
Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration's initial statements that the attack was sparked by protests of an anti-Islamic video posted online, and that it was not a planned assault.
Turner’s statement Friday said that there was initially information “that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo.”
“We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available,” the statement said.
The statement said the agency emphasized "that information gathered was preliminary and evolving."
“As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists,” Turner said.
Republican criticisms of the administration’s response in Libya has come from both lawmakers and the Romney campaign.
During an appearance Friday on CNN, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called for UN Ambassador Susan Rice to resign due to a "failure of foreign policy message and leadership." "Somebody has to pay the price for this," King said.
Lawmakers have been frustrated at the information the administration has provided about the attack — including after a briefing from Clapper as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
They’ve questioned whether the Obama administration is trying to downplay the attack because of the upcoming November election, and the Republican National Committee has questioned why President Obama has not publicly called the attack a "terrorist" attack.
White House press secretary Jay Carney has said the president believes it was a terrorist attack.
Asked Thursday how quickly he knew it was a terrorist attack, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that “it took awhile to really get some of the feedback from what exactly happened at that location.”
The DNI statement said that it was unclear if any specific group or person was behind planning of the attack. “However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaeda,” the statement said.
--This report was posted on Friday at 5:23 p.m. and updated on Saturday at 7:57 a.m.