"It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," said Carney at that briefing. "Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self-evident."
On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, White House senior adviser David Plouffe contradicted Carney's assessment, insisting that the heavily armed attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that resulted in the death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, could only be categorized as an act of terrorism after days of investigation by the U.S. intelligence community.
"I think that in the days afterwards, it wasn’t clear this was a terrorist attack," said Plouffe.
"Meet the Press" host David Gregory had asked Plouffe about Carney's statement that the Benghazi attack was a "self-evident" terrorist attack.
"Well, if it was self-evident," said Gregory, "then why didn’t the president come out and call this exactly what it was, an act of terror on the anniversary of 9/11?"
"Well, this is an event of great interest, obviously, to the public, to the news media," said Plouffe. "Information was being provided real-time. Obviously, you’re going to know more two weeks after an event than a week after an event. And as Ambassador Rice was--that was the information from the intelligence community.
"It was the same information provided for Congress," Plouffe continued. "The reason obviously we now have stipulated this as a terrorist attack is that came from the intelligence agencies, So as information has become available, as this investigation has continued, we’re obviously making that information known. And I think the important thing, what the American people want to understand is, are we taking the right steps to secure our personnel, our ambassadors, our embassies."
Gregory followed up: "No, but there’s also the question about whether you call this what it is on the day that it happens. Jay Carney said it was self-evident that this was a terrorist attack. These are people who came to a demonstration with weapons and security was an issue at the compound. Why not call it what it was?"
"Well," said Plouffe, "I think now based on the recommendations and the investigation of the intelligence community, they made the decision to conclude that this was a terrorist attack. In the days after, that was not clear. So, you know, this is obviously, was a very, very fast-moving period of time. As I said, there’s a great deal of interest in this. So we provided information that we received from the intelligence community as we got it. The intelligence community put out a lengthy document on Friday that explained the timeline here. And I think that in the days afterwards, it wasn’t clear this was a terrorist attack. As their investigation was conducted and as they got more information, that’s the determination they made."
On Friday, Shawn Turner, the director of public affairs for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper put out a statement saying that the "Intelligence Community" initially believed the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi "began spontaneously" but had sinced determined that the event had been "a deliberate and organized attack" that involved people "linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaida." Turner said the Intelligence Community's "understanding of the event continues to evolve" and "will continue to evolve."
"As the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes more information related to the attack, our understanding of the event continues to evolve," said Turner. "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. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving.
"As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists," said Turner. "It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa'ida. We continue to make progress, but there remain many unanswered questions. As more information becomes available our analysis will continue to evolve and we will obtain a more complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack."