(Reuters) - The top U.S. intelligence authority issued an unusual public statement on Friday declaring it now believed the September 11 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, was a "deliberate and organized terrorist attack."
The statement by the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that it represented a change in the U.S. intelligence assessment of how and why the attack happened. During the attack on two U.S. government compounds in the eastern Libyan city, four U.S. personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.
Shawn Turner, spokesman for Clapper's office, said that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, U.S. agencies came to the view that the Benghazi attack had begun spontaneously after protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo against a short film made in California lampooning the Prophet Mohammad.
Turner said that as U.S. intelligence subsequently 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."
He said it remained "unclear" if any individual or specific group commanded the attack. U.S. agencies nonetheless believe that some of the militants involved in the attack were "linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qaida."
In an apparent reference to a series of contradictory statements by some top Obama administration officials, Turner said intelligence agencies' "initial assessment" had been passed on "to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available."