Petraeus: Benghazi seen as terror strike right away

  • ** FILE ** This Feb. 2, 2012, file photo shows then-CIA Director David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. Petraeus has resigned because of an extramarital affair.  (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)** FILE ** This Feb. 2, 2012, file photo shows then-CIA Director David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. Petraeus has resigned because of an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
  • Members of the media try to get a peek inside the hallway down to the room where Gen. David Petraeus testifies about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)Members of the media try to get a peek inside the hallway down to the room where Gen. David Petraeus testifies about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
  • A member of the media photographs the car which it is believed to hold former CIA Director David Petraeus as he is driven away from the Capitol Building after meeting with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A member of the media photographs the car which it is believed to hold former CIA Director David Petraeus as he is driven away from the Capitol Building after meeting with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The motorcade with Gen. David Petraeus leaves the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the general's closed-door testimony about the Benghazi attacks. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)The motorcade with Gen. David Petraeus leaves the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the general's closed-door testimony about the Benghazi attacks. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
  • A U.S. Capitol Police officer comes out of the room where Gen. David Petraeus is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Benghazi attack at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. Security was tight in the Capitol complex, and the media were not allowed in the hearing rooms. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)A U.S. Capitol Police officer comes out of the room where Gen. David Petraeus is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Benghazi attack at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. Security was tight in the Capitol complex, and the media were not allowed in the hearing rooms. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
  • A member of the media films between a crack in a set of double doors as former CIA Director David Petraeus allegedly meets with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A member of the media films between a crack in a set of double doors as former CIA Director David Petraeus allegedly meets with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A Capitol Hill Police Officer stands guard as former CIA Director David Petraeus meets with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A Capitol Hill Police Officer stands guard as former CIA Director David Petraeus meets with lawmakers behind closed doors inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), center, heads to a closed door meeting with former CIA Director David Petraeus inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), center, heads to a closed door meeting with former CIA Director David Petraeus inside the Capitol Visitors Center on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Friday, November 16, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The motorcade with Gen. David Petraeus leaves the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the general's closed-door testimony about the Benghazi attacks. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)The motorcade with Gen. David Petraeus leaves the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the general's closed-door testimony about the Benghazi attacks. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
  • Two U.S. Capitol Police officers walk down a closed hallway in the Senate side of the Capitol Visitors Center while Gen. David Petraeus testifies about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)Two U.S. Capitol Police officers walk down a closed hallway in the Senate side of the Capitol Visitors Center while Gen. David Petraeus testifies about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.  is surrounded by reporters after speaking, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a committee's closed-door hearing where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. is surrounded by reporters after speaking, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a committee's closed-door hearing where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  • House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya and testimony by former CIA Director David Petraeus . (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya and testimony by former CIA Director David Petraeus . (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. waits to speak with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a closed-door hearing of the committee where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. waits to speak with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a closed-door hearing of the committee where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the committee's closed-door hearing where  former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 following the committee's closed-door hearing where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a closed-door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, following a closed-door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  • A Capitol Hill police officer stops people from entering a hallway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov, 16, 2012, near where the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding a closed-door hearing where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)A Capitol Hill police officer stops people from entering a hallway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov, 16, 2012, near where the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding a closed-door hearing where former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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In his first testimony since stepping down last week, former CIA Director David H. Petraeus told a closed Capitol Hill briefing Friday that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya “was a terrorist attack and there were terrorists involved from the start,” Rep. Peter T. King said Friday.

The New York Republican, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, spoke to reporters after emerging from a closed-door, classified briefing by Mr. Petraeus, who visited Libya last month to interview survivors of the attack in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Critics have repeatedly questioned the sequence of events and motivations of the attackers offered by top Obama administration officials in the months since the incident.

Mr. King noted that Mr. Petraeus‘ testimony on Friday differed from a classified briefing he gave lawmakers on Sept. 14, three days after the attack, in which he linked it to protests earlier that day in Cairo against an American-made video denigrating Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

“The clear impression we were given [in the Sept. 14 briefing] was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and it was not a terrorist attack,” said Mr. King.

On Friday, however, Mr. Petreaus “told us that this was a terrorist attack, and there were terrorists involved from the start,” Mr. King said.

A U.S. Capitol Police officer comes out of the room where Gen. David Petraeus is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Benghazi attack at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The general was expected to say that he knew the attack was terror-based from the beginning. Security was tight in the Capitol complex, and the media were not allowed in the hearing rooms. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)

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A U.S. Capitol Police officer comes out of the room where Gen. ... more >

The congressman said Mr. Petraeus‘ use of the word “spontaneous” was “minimized” in his account on Friday.

But Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said suggestions the administration’s initial talking points for Benghazi had been changed are “completely wrong.”

Mr. Smith, who attended another briefing Friday with intelligence officials that included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said the attack on the consulate building was “somewhat spontaneous.”

“Nobody has ever denied that it was a terrorist attack. What we’ve questioned is how far planned was it,” Mr. Smith said. “It was both a terrorist attack and spontaneous, and why that has to be mutually exclusive is completely beyond me.”

Lawmakers are trying to determine why Obama administration officials said publicly long after the attack that it had resulted from spontaneous protests, as well as the administration’s response to the assault and security concerns before it.

Rice comments questioned

Mr. Petraeus on Friday met with the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and the House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican.

A key issue is comments by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on several talk shows on the Sunday after the attack and said that all the intelligence gathered to that time pointed to the attack as arising from spontaneous protests that then turned violent.

Critics have said the administration’s initial account was an attempt to keep the controversy from boiling over during the presidential campaign, and that the real story would undercut arguments from Mr. Obama and others that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups had been largely rendered ineffective in the region.

Supporters have said Mrs. Rice’s comments and those of other officials were based on the best U.S. intelligence assessments at that time.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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