Carney did it at the White House press briefing on Tuesday, Sept. 18, and Obama did it later that same day in a taped interview with David Letterman.
However, according to a new report by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, personnel working at the CIA "Annex" in Benghazi on Sept. 11 reported on Sept. 15 that there had been no protest in Benghazi that day, and State Department security personnel who survived the Benghazi attacks told FBI interviewers on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 that they, too, had seen no evidence of any protest before the attacks.
At the White House briefing on Sept. 18, Carney said that there was a protest in Benghazi on Sept. 11 against the anti-Muslim YouTube video and that the attacks there were "sparked" by protests. Obama, appearing on David Letterman’s show that same day, instantly referred to the video and called its maker a “shadowy character” when Letterman asked him what had happened in Benghazi.
Video recordings from the diplomatic mission’s closed-circuit television security system, according to the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s report, would also demonstrate that there had been no protest there before the terrorist attacks.
At the White House press briefing on Tuesday, Sept. 18, reporters asked Carney numerous questions about what the administration understood at that point about the attacks in Benghazi. One question focused specifically on the claim that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice had made two days before on several national television programs that the attacks had arisen from a spontaneous demonstration against the YouTube video.
“Ambassador Rice says on Sunday that it was spontaneous, and then we hear from the State Department that there’s not enough information to make the determination,” a reporter asked. “But you’re saying that there is no shift, right?”
“No, I’m saying that based on information that we--our initial information, and that includes all information--we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video,” said Carney. “And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence--not supposition--concrete evidence that we have thus far. But there is a lot that is under investigation here, and as more facts come to light, if they change that assessment, we’ll make that clear.”
"Would the administration still say that it was spontaneous?' a reporter asked Carney in a follow-up.
"Based on the information that we have now, it was--there was a reaction to the video--there was protests in Cairo, then followed by protests elsewhere, including Benghazi, and that that was what led to the original unrest," said Carney. "The other factors here--all factors--but the other factors here, including participants in the unrest, participants in the violence, are under investigation. And the goal of that investigation is both to find out what happened and why, but also to track down and bring to justice those who killed four Americans. And we’re working with our Libyan counterparts to ensure that that happens, as the President committed it would."
Carney’s briefing started at 11:33 a.m. on Sept. 18. At 4:40 p.m. that day, Obama taped an interview with David Letterman.
Letterman asked Obama: “The ambassador to Libya killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Is this an act of war? Are we at war now? What happens here?”
Obama responded: “No. Well, here’s what happened: You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character, who, an extremely offensive video directed at Mohammad and Islam—
Letterman: “--making fun of the Prophet Mohammad.”
Obama: “--making fun of the Prophet Mohammad. And, so, this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world, but what also happened was extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies including the one, the consulate in Libya. And the irony is is the ambassador, Chris Stevens, he was the person who was first in Libya and helped to advise us in liberating Libya from Muammar Qaddafi, the former dictator there. So, this was a guy who was actually beloved by the vast majority of Libyans and these extremists do not represent what the Libyan people think.”
A Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee report, which was completed on Sunday, Dec. 30 and first obtained by Fox News on Dec. 31, reveals new information about the aftermath of the Benghazi attack—including when those working for the CIA and State Department in Benghazi gave their definitive eyewitness accounts of what had happened there on Sept. 11.
None of the CIA or State Department eyewitnesses said there had been a demonstration of any kind.
On Nov. 28, according to the committee’s report, Acting CIA Director Michael Morell told Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine), the ranking member of the committee, that people working at an “Annex” operated by the CIA in Benghazi reported on Sept. 15 that there had been no demonstration prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in that Libyan city.
“As early as September 15th, the Annex team that had been in Benghazi during the attack reported there had been no protest,” said the committee report. “This information was apparently not shared broadly, and to the extent that it was shared, it apparently did not outweigh the evidence described above that there was a protest. The next day, the President of Libya’s General National Congress, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, also stated on the CBS News show Face the Nation that the attack was planned and involved Al Qaeda elements.”
At the same time that the team from the CIA Annex was reporting that there had been no protest in Benghazi on Sept. 11, the FBI was interviewing the State Department personnel who had survived the attack on the diplomatic mission, where Amb. Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith had been killed.
“On September 15th and 16th, officials from the FBI conducted face-to-face interviews in Germany of the U.S. personnel who had been on the compound in Benghazi during the attack,” said the committee’s report. “The U.S. personnel who were interviewed saw no indications that there had been a protest prior to the attack. Information from those interviews was shared on a secure video teleconference on the afternoon of the 16th with FBI and other IC [intelligence community] officials in Washington; it is unclear whether the question of whether a protest took place was discussed during this video conference. Information from those interviews was written into FBI FD-302 interrogation reports and sent back to the FBI headquarters.”
The committee report says that about a week after FBI investigators interviewed the State Department Benghazi survivors, the FBI sent a report to other agencies in the intelligence community about what it had learned from these eyewitnesses. This report went out after Carney’s Sept. 18 briefing and Obama’s Sept. 18 appearance on Letterman. However, before the FBI sent out this report, the intelligence community had already seen the video collected from the closed-circuit television system at the Benghazi diplomatic mission that showed there had been no protest prior to the terrorist attack.
“Nearly a week later, on or around September 22nd, key information from those interrogation reports was disseminated by the FBI in Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) to other agencies within the IC,” said the committee’s report. “By that date, however, the IC had already received conclusive proof via other means that there had been no protest prior to the attack, in the form of video evidence from the facility’s CCTV cameras.”
The report says that the closed-circuit TV system showed that the attack started with a large number of armed men storming through the gate of the diplomatic mission,
"During the day on September 11th, the Ambassador held several meetings on the compound and retired to his room at approximately 9:00 p.m. local time," the report says. "About 40 minutes later, several agents and guards heard loud shouting, noises coming from the gate, as well as gunfire, and an explosion.
"A closed-circuit television monitor at the facility’s Tactical Operations Center (“TOC”) showed a large number of armed people flowing unimpeded through the main gate," says the report.
As soon as this happened, a State Department diplomatic security officer at the mission in Benghazi notified the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"One of the DS [diplomatic security] agents in the compound’s TOC triggered an audible alarm, and immediately alerted the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and DS headquarters in Washington," says the report. "These notifications were quickly transmitted from the Department of State to the Department of Defense."
If President Obama and his spokesman did not know by Sept. 18 what the CIA and the FBI already conclusively knew by then, people working in the State Department’s Diplomatic Security command center certainly did—as an internal State Department email exchange showed.
“We also found documentation that one DS agent apparently concluded there had been no protest as early as September 18,” said the committee’s report. “On that date, a State Department DS agent who had seen national press reporting about the attacks asked an agent at the DS Command Center in an email, ‘Was there any rioting in Benghazi reported prior to the attack?’ The reply from the Command Center agent: ‘Zip, nothing, nada.’”
On Sept. 21, three days after Obama appeared on Letterman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unambiguously stated that "what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." But, the committee report notes, three days after Clinton's statement--and nine days after CIA eyewitnesses said there had been no protest in Benghazi--Obama declined to make a "definitive" statement on "The View" about what had happened in Benghazi.
On the Sept. 24 edition of "The View," Obama said the Benghazi attack was not "just a mob action."
Joy Behar asked him: "It was reported that people just went crazy and wild because of this anti-Muslim movie, or anti-Muhammad, I guess, movie. But then I heard Hillary Clinton say that it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?"
Obama replied: "Well, we’re still doing an investigation. There’s no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet, so we’re still gathering it. But what’s clear is that around the world, there’s still a lot of threats out there. And that’s why we have to maintain the strongest military in the world."
U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11 when terrorists set fire to the building they were in. Former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who were CIA contractors, were killed about seven hours later in a terrorist mortar attack on the CIA Annex in Benghazi.