Published September 19, 2012
Two days after the Obama administration's top diplomat to the United Nations insisted the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was "spontaneous," the White House opened the door Tuesday to the possibility of other explanations.
"We have provided information about what we believe was the precipitating cause of the protest and violence based on the information that we have had available," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. "The FBI is investigating, and that investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."
Carney continued to claim that "we do not have any indication at this point of premeditation or pre-planned attacks," but went on to say: "we're not making declarations ahead of the facts here."
Perhaps significantly, Carney did not go so far as U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice in detailing what the administration thinks happened. In doing so, Carney appeared to acknowledge that the investigation could offer a different version of events.
Rice said on "Fox News Sunday" -- one of several Sunday show interviews she granted -- that the administration believes the attack was not "preplanned" or "premeditated." Instead, Rice said, it was a "spontaneous" reaction to protests in Egypt over an anti-Islam film, and extremist elements "joined the fray" before it "spun out of control."
However, that account clashed with claims by the Libyan president that the attack was in fact premeditated. Other sources, including an intelligence source in Libya who spoke to Fox News, have echoed those claims. The intelligence source even said that, contrary to the suggestion by the Obama administration, there was no major protest in Benghazi before the deadly attack which killed four Americans. A U.S. official did not dispute the claim.
In the face of these conflicting accounts, Carney on Tuesday deferred to the ongoing investigation.
"It is an absolute tragedy that we lost four Americans in Benghazi," he said. "There is an active investigation under way about what happened and why and what the motivations were."
Some have questioned how an attack that involved RPG's and mortar fire could have possibly been spontaneous. Carney, though, suggested those weapons are readily available in post-revolution Libya.
"There are vast numbers of weapons and certainly a number of violent groups in the country," Carney said. "It is still a very volatile place, there's no question about it."
He said the ongoing investigation will examine "what role the video played" in the attack, among other things.
Fox News was told that the assault on the consulate came without warning and included RPGs and mortars -- including at least one round that hit the consulate roof.
There were two waves to the assault, Fox News was told. According to the intelligence source, in the first wave, the attackers were heard to say "we got him" -- a reference to Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. Word spread, the attackers regrouped and the second wave went after the motorcade and support personnel.
The account relayed by the intelligence source on the ground in Libya is consistent with statements by the Libyan president that the attack was pre-mediated and the work of foreign fighters, which is code for Islamist extremists, including the Al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa. It is also consistent with an interview by McClatchy Newspapers with a purported Libyan security guard who was injured in the assault. The guard said the consulate area was quiet and "there wasn't a single ant outside" until dozens of armed men descended on the compound.
Even before Ambassador Stevens' murder, U.S. officials say the CIA determined the security situation in eastern Libya was deteriorating based on four attacks, beginning in June, on diplomatic and Western targets in Benghazi, including the U.S. Consulate. That said, U.S. officials insist there was no specific warning of an armed assault, like the one that killed the four Americans.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.