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Senator: Benghazi survivors blamed attack on terrorism in FBI interviews

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Sept. 11, 2012: A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames. (Reuters)

The FBI interviewed the Benghazi survivors over a three-day period shortly after the attack, and none of them reported a protest or demonstration, according to a Republican senator who says the timeline was confirmed by an FBI deputy director. 

The account again raises questions about why the administration claimed initially after the attack that it sprung out of protests over an anti-Islam film. 

"The FBI confirmed to me that when they interviewed the survivors on the 15th the 16th and the 17th [of September], not one person ever mentioned anything other than a terrorist attack. No one mentioned a protest outside the consulate," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News. "So, how could the Obama administration come up with a protest story if everybody on the ground during the attack said it was a terrorist attack and there was no protest?" 

What is unclear is whether this information was immediately shared by the FBI, ignored, or somehow blocked from reaching the White House. 

Fox News asked the FBI whether the survivors' statements were immediately flagged and made available to the intelligence community and the White House. There was no immediate response. 

On Sept. 25, 10 days after the Benghazi survivors told the FBI there was no protest linked to an anti-Islam film, President Obama blamed the video in a speech which began as a tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed along with three other Americans. 

"Chris Stevens embodied the best of America. Like his fellow foreign service officers, he built bridges across oceans and cultures and deeply invested in the international cooperation the United Nations represents,"  Obama said at the U.N. General Assembly. Eight minutes into the 30-minute address, the president blamed the video for violence that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. 

"And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well," the president explained. 

While Fox News has previously reported that the FBI interviewed the survivors within days of the attack -- before then-Ambassador Susan Rice blamed a protest gone awry on the Sunday talk shows -- Graham's comments are believed to be the first instance where a specific timeline has been revealed. 

Asked whether the video explanation came from the intelligence community, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Rogers, said there was no evidence in the thousands of classified cables investigators had reviewed. 

"I can't tell you what the genesis was. We found no evidence in our thorough review of all of those classified documents again, some 4,000 of them. We found no evidence that there was any involvement in the video leading up or during the day of the attack," Rogers said, adding: "The only discussion of the video came subsequent to the attack. That's at least in the realm of my investigation through the intelligence committee. We again, found no evidence that that video had anything to do with the attack." 

Rogers said the statements from survivors to his committee reinforced those conclusions. 

"Individuals on the ground said, 'Hey, this is a terrorist led event' in our interviews. Leading up to the event it was very clear by the classified information that was being provided that the intelligence gathered said that there was a terrorist activity event likely to happen and it was getting worse or more probable as it got close to the 9/11 date." 

Graham, who has interviewed a State Department survivor, said there was a request for additional security as late as the final days of August 2012 because of the rising threat from Al Qaeda groups. This further undercuts the recent New York Times reporting which concluded the terrorist group had no presence in Benghazi.   

"I have been briefed about the document," Graham explained, adding that he was limited because the document remains classified. "I will only say this, there's an additional security request to upgrade security at the compound based on increased threats from Al Qaeda groups in Benghazi. That request was denied, this security request was submitted about a month, or six weeks after the lease was renewed. How could they miss all of this?" 

This document raises new questions about the testimony of Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October, when he initially claimed all requests had been met, but under questioning conceded one request had not been fulfilled. 

"The State Department responded to every single one of the requests for -- for increased security enhancements in Benghazi. And I -- I would be glad to submit for the record a list of all the security enhancements that we put into place in Benghazi,"  Kennedy testified. "Except for one request ... all the requests that were filed by our embassy in Tripoli, on behalf of the temporary mission facility in Benghazi, were met. They asked for funding for concrete jersey barriers to increase the perimeter. They asked for four steel drop-arms in order to make sure that cars could not -- could not crash through the gate." 

Graham said the survivor also communicated that "it was a coordinated military style attack, heavily armed insurgents coming through the gate carrying a banner that turned out to be the banner of Ansar Al-Sharia. ... So how could the Obama administration come up with a protest story if everybody on the ground during the attack said it was a terrorist attack and there was no protest?" 

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.

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