James Clapper defends Benghazi US consulate response - The Australian
THE chief of US intelligence has rejected criticism over how spy agencies responded to a deadly attack on diplomats in Libya and said there was no clear warning before the onslaught.
On the eve of the first congressional hearing into the September 11 attack, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, suggested yesterday it was naive to believe the government could have quickly arrived at a definitive explanation of what happened at the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
"I flew back to Washington, and I'm reading the media clips about the hapless, hopeless, helpless, inept, incompetent DNI, because I acknowledged publicly that we didn't instantly have that 'God's eye, God's ear' certitude about an event, as I mentioned earlier," he said.
Mr Clapper said there was no telltale sign of an imminent attack on the consulate, when dozens of gunmen laid siege to the compound, killing US ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff.
"The challenge is always a tactical warning, the exact insights ahead of time that such an attack is going to take place, and obviously we did not have that," Mr Clapper said.
In a dramatic new account, two State Department officials preparing to address today's first public congressional hearing into the attack in which the four Americans died have described a relentless attack in which dozens of armed men invaded the consulate, setting it on fire and hunting through the building for staff.
There had been no warning that an attack was planned and, in the hours before, the streets outside the compound had been calm, they said on a conference call with reporters, asking to remain anonymous.
The new account contradicts initial reports by State Department officials saying it was a "spontaneous" attack sparked by a protest against an anti-Islam film. '
'There was no actionable intelligence of any planned or imminent attack," one of the officials said yesterday.
Stevens held a series of meetings and stayed in the compound as it was the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. He walked his last guest, a Turkish diplomat, to the compound gates.
"They say goodbye, they're out in the streets. Everything is calm, at 8.30pm there's nothing unusual, there has been nothing unusual during the day at all," a second official said.
Gunfire and explosions first erupted about 9.40 pm and agents manning security cameras saw "a large number of armed men flowing into the compound," said one of the officials. The armed attackers doused the outside of one of the buildings with diesel, setting it alight, and then invaded the main residence, pouring fuel over furniture and starting a blaze, which let off plumes of choking smoke.
An armed American security agent alerted Stevens and, together with US information manager Sean Smith, they sheltered in a fortified safe haven in a closet on the bedroom floor of the main residence.
But the three men soon found it hard to breathe and, after moving to a bathroom with a grilled window, decided they had to make a break for it despite tracer bullet fire and grenades raining around the compound inside.
In their bid to escape, the three were separated. Smith's body was found during heroic search attempts by US security while Stevens was taken to a hospital. The remaining security forces fled through chaotic streets in an armoured vehicle for a nearby annex, which came under sustained mortar fire. Two US security agents were killed.