The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee singled out President Obama's top intelligence adviser for the mixed messages on last month's attack in Libya.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Wednesday told the local CBS station in San Francisco that Obama initially called the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three Americans an “act of terror” in the days after the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. She suggested the administration initially linked the attack to an anti-Islam video based on the assessment of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clapper — a “very good individual” according to Feinstein — “put out some speaking points on the initial intelligence assessment,” she said. “I think that was possibly a mistake.”
The question of what the administration knew and when about the attack on Benghazi has become an issue in the presidential election. Republicans have accused the president of misleading the American public about the attack to protect his national security credentials.
The issue irrupted onto the national stage during Tuesday night's debate when Romney brought up the issue of whether Obama had called it an “act of terror.” The transcript from Obama's Sept. 12 Rose Garden speech — and two speeches the next day in Nevada and Colorado — confirm that he used the words “act of terror,” but didn't call the attack “terrorism.”
Clapper's office has already claimed responsibility. On Sept. 28, the office put out a statement saying “there was 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.”
Feinstein said there's now no question the attack was an act of terrorism.
“I think we do know what happened,” she said. “There's no question but that it was a terrorist attack. There's no question that the security was inadequate. And I think there's no question that we need to work on our intelligence.”
The senator said she would hold a hearing next month after the independent review board charged with investigating whether intelligence and security failures contributed to the deaths in Benghazi issues its report.
“It's my intention to have a hearing on that report,” she said. “I talked to [CIA Director] David Petraeus about it, he's aware that we'll have that hearing. And I think that we have to take a good look as to whether our intelligence — particularly in these nine Middle Eastern countries, very troubled from within — is what it should be.”
She said the United States needs to work on getting better human intelligence from the Middle East. Asked if the region is bound to see more turmoil, she said America needs to be ready either way.
“I can't say whether we will or we won't,” Feinstein said. “I can say that we should prepare, regardless of whether it happens or not. There is no reason for us to operate an embassy or a consulate without adequate protection. And if the host country can't do it, then we need to do it.”