Immediately after the murder of Chris Stevens, America’s Ambassador to Libya, I suggested that the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 could have profound consequences for President Barack Obama, particulary if he failed to take appropriate action against the murderers – the most likely candidates being members of al-Qaeda’s new terror franchise in Mali.
But with the US presidential contest entering its critical final phase, the Obama administration deftly avoided getting into any controversy over the murder of Mr Stevens and three other members of the consulate staff by leading everyone to believe the murders were not part of an al-Qaeda plot, but the result of an outbreak of violence caused by a blaphemous film clip. This was certainly the line advanced by Dr Susan Rice, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and a close confidante of Mr Obama.
Dr Rice, in common with other senior officials in the Obama administration, insisted that the assault on the US consulate had been “spontaneous”, rather than a carefully planned attack by terrorists. By making this claim, the White House effectively silenced any criticism that the Obama administration was culpable for not taking more effective measures to protect the consulate.
But now it appears that Rice’s version of events – endorsed by the White House – was wrong. Within 24 hours of the attack taking place, Washington was informed by a variety of intelligence sources that the attack had indeed been pre-planned and was undoubtedly the work of al-Qaeda which, apart from attacking the consulate, had also attacked the CIA’s safe house in Benghazi.
As a result, rather than absolving itself of any blame for this tragic incident, the White House – and Mr Obama – now find themselves at the centre of a mounting storm over what precisely they knew about the attack on the consulate, and when.