A press briefing at the White House on Friday offered some hints on the Obama administration’s efforts at damage control after a lack of security allowed the deadly attacks on U.S. embassies earlier this week.
In a Sept. 14 news report, U.S. intelligence warned our embassy in Egypt of concern about an anti-Muslim film that was sparking anger and violence across the Mideast. A U.S. official reportedly told CNN that the American intelligence community sent a cable to the embassy in Egypt warning of the concern 48 hours before the violence broke out.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta held a briefing for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senators were told there is evidence that the violence was a premeditated terrorist attack, but that was not so clear in a press conference with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
A tense exchange was played out in the following transcripts from a chronicle by Jake Tapper, ABC News’ senior White House correspondent:
TAPPER: One of my colleagues in the Associated Press asked you a direct question, was there any direct intelligence suggesting that there would be an attack on the U.S. consulates. You said that a story — referred to a story being false and said there was no actionable intelligence, but you didn’t answer his question. Was there any intelligence, period — intelligence, period, suggesting that there was going to be an attack on either the –
CARNEY: There was no intelligence that in any way could have been acted on to prevent these attacks. It is — I mean, I think the DNI spokesman was very declarative about this, that the report is false. The report suggested that there was intelligence that was available prior to this that led us to believe that this facility would be attacked, and that is false.
TAPPER: Why was there not adequate security around Ambassador Stevens?
CARNEY: In terms of the security at the Benghazi facility or post, I would have to refer you to the State Department for specifics about what security was there.
There was a security presence. It was, unfortunately, not enough to resist the attacks that we saw, and resulted in the tragic loss of life, but there was security. It is also the case that in reaction to this, the president has ordered that we review all of our security arrangements for embassy facilities and other diplomatic facilities around the world. But in terms of the specific security that was in place at Benghazi, I’d have to refer you to the State Department.
TAPPER: Wouldn’t it seem logical that the anniversary of 9/11 would be a time that you would want to have extra security around diplomats and military posts?
CARNEY: Well, as you know, there — we are very vigilant around anniversaries like 9/11. The president is always briefed and brought up to speed on all the precautions being taken. But let’s be –
TAPPER: Obviously not vigilant enough.
CARNEY: Jake, let’s be clear. This — these protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region –
TAPPER: At Benghazi?
CARNEY: We certainly don’t know; we don’t know otherwise. You know, we have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack. The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of or to U.S. policy.
TAPPER: The group around the Benghazi post was well-armed, it was a well-coordinated attack. Do you think it was a spontaneous protest against a movie?
CARNEY: Look, this is obviously under investigation, and I don’t have — but I answered the question.
ANOTHER REPORTER: But your operating assumptions — your operating assumption is that that was — that was in response to the video, in Benghazi? I just want to clear that up. That’s the framework; that’s the operating assumption?
CARNEY: It’s not an assumption –
TAPPER: Administration officials have said that it looks like this was something other than –
CARNEY: I think there have been misreports on this, Jake, even in the press, which some of it has been speculative. What I’m telling you is this is under investigation. The unrest around the region has been in response to this video. We do not, at this moment, have information to suggest or to tell you that would indicate that any of this unrest was preplanned.
What is true about Libya is that — a couple of things. One is it’s one of the more pro-American countries in the region. Two, it is a very new government. It is a country that has just come out of a revolution and a lot of turmoil, and there are certainly a lot of armed groups. So the fact that there are weapons in the region and the new government is not — you know, is still building up its capacities in terms of security and its — and its ability to ensure the security of facilities is not necessarily reflective of anything except for the remarkable transformation that’s been going on in the region.
TAPPER: My last question, it was said that what happened at 9/11 was a failure of imagination, failure of American policymakers and counterterrorism officials to anticipate the kind of attack that could have taken place. This would seem to be the exact opposite. Was this a failure by the Obama administration? Did the president and his administration mess up in any way?
CARNEY: Jake, again, what we have seen is unrest around the region in response to a video that Muslims find offensive, many Muslims find offensive. We have seen incidents like this in the past in reaction to other actions, cartoons, and other actions that have been taken that have been — have led to protests and violence in the region.
And we have managed those situations, and we are working to ensure that our diplomatic personnel and our diplomatic facilities are secure as we deal with the response to this video, which we believe is offensive and disgusting….I think you have to understand what is happening currently in the region and what it is a response to. This is not — this has been in –
TAPPER: No, I don’t need to understand that, I think the people who protect the embassies need to understand it.
MR. CARNEY: The cause of the unrest was a video, and that continues today, as you know, as we anticipated. And it may continue for sometime. We are working with governments around the region to remind them of their responsibilities to provide security to diplomatic personnel and facilities, and we are ensuring that more resources are put in place to protect our embassies and consulates and our personnel in these parts of the world where unrest is occurring.
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