Weeks before the presidential election, President Barack Obama’s administration faces mounting opposition from within the ranks of U.S. intelligence agencies over what careerofficers say is a “cover up” of intelligence information about terrorism in North Africa.
Intelligence held back from senior officials and the public includes numerous classified reports revealing clear Iranian support for jihadists throughout the tumultuous North Africa and Middle East region, as well as notably widespread al Qaeda penetration into Egypt and Libya in the months before the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Intelligence officials pointed to the statement issued Sept. 28 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that raised additional concern about the administration’s apparent mishandling of intelligence. The ODNI statement said that “in the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo.”
Officials say the ODNI’s false information was either knowingly disseminated or was directed to be put out by senior policy officials for political reasons, since the statement was contradicted by numerous intelligence reports at the time of the attack indicating it was al Qaeda-related terrorism.
Officials with access to intelligence reports, based on both technical spying and human agents, said specific reporting revealed an alarming surge in clandestine al Qaeda activity months before the attack in Benghazi.
Yet the Obama administration sought to keep the information from becoming public to avoid exposing what the officials say is a Middle East policy failure by Obama.
Officials said that the administration appeared to engage in a disinformation campaign aimed at distancing the president personally during the peak of the presidential election campaign from the disaster in Benghazi, where numerous warnings of an attack were ignored
, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other officials.
The first part of the apparent campaign, officials said, was the false information provided to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on Sunday television shows after the attack to say the event was a “spontaneous” response to an anti-Muslim video trailer posted online. Officials said Rice was given the false information to use in media appearances in order to promote the excuse that the obscure video was the cause of the attack, and not the Islamic concept of jihad.
Rice’s claims provoked concern inside the U.S. intelligence community that intelligence about what was going on in Libya and the region was being suppressed, and led to a series of news disclosures about what would later be confirmed as an al Qaeda attack using the group Ansar al Sharia.