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Exclusive: Cable warning of Benghazi consulate vulnerability would have gone to White House, officials say

 

Current and former intelligence officials tell Fox News that a classified State Department cable sent Aug. 16 -- and which said the Benghazi consulate could not defend against a "coordinated attack" -- would certainly have gone to the White House National Security Council staff.  

"The National Security Council sees everything," a former senior intelligence official told Fox News. "The staff are sitting on top of all the cable traffic which means the national security advisor (Tom Donilon) and deputy national security advisor (Denis McDonough) have some explaining to do. If Libya was of interest to this administration, the national security staff saw it."

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Current and former intelligence officials said that North Africa -- specifically the growing lawlessness in eastern Libya, the sizable CIA presence and the estimated 20,000 loose weapons -- were of keen interest to the White House national security team and the intelligence community. There is growing evidence that the attack was designed to flush out any remaining western influence in eastern Libya, and specifically the growing CIA presence. 

"To have not read it would be negligent," the former senior intelligence official said. 

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The classified cable marked "SECRET" and reviewed by Fox News summarized an emergency meeting in Benghazi less than a month before the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Other media outlets, including The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, have since cited the classified cable in editorials questioning the administration's security lapses preceding the attack. 

The cable, sent to the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warned that the consulate could not defend against a "coordinated attack," that 10 Islamist groups and Al Qaeda had training camps in Benghazi and that the consulate would be requesting more help. 

The cable's warning is prescient as the coordinated assault is now blamed on Ansar al-Sharia and Al Qaeda in North Africa -- two of the three groups specifically identified in the cable. The State Department declined to answer specific questions about the cable, citing its classified content, and pointed to its internal investigation which will not conclude until after the election. 

There was no immediate response from a spokesman for the National Security Council. 

Separately, Fox News is told that investigators are actively assessing whether the string of attacks the week of Sept. 11 are not "a series of isolated incidents" but rather connected through a loose "command and control" network.   As Fox News was first to report at the end of October, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., citing his knowledge of the investigation, said that the Benghazi attack is linked to an identical attack in Tunisia on the embassy and the American school two days later by the same network Ansar al-Sharia. 

While Rogers cautioned it was not carried out by the same militants, he believed Ansar al-Sharia wanted to build on the "momentum" from the successful strike in Benghazi. 

Fox News is told that in Jihadi web forums, the muddled narrative from the administration about the Benghazi attack has been seen as a victory.  Walid Phares, a Fox News Middle East analyst, said, "All Salafi jihadists including Ansar al-Sharia and in various countries in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, and also in Yemen, they perceive the attack in Benghazi not just as a victory for them, a successful one, and a model for future attacks."

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.