Published December 23, 2015
The debate over former CIA Director David Petraeus' testimony on Libya Friday may seem like semantics, but the claim that Petraeus testified he suspected the attack was terrorism from the start appears to conflict with other statements that were coming out of the administration at the time.
The following is an overview of what different branches of the administration have said about the Libya attack in the days and weeks after Sept. 11:
President Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12, referred to "acts of terror" as he condemned the attack. But later that day, when asked in an interview with CBS whether he thought the attack was terrorism, Obama said "it's too early to tell exactly how this came about."
On Sept. 14, Press Secretary Jay Carney said "we have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack." He continued to link the attack to protests over an anti-Islam film.
On Sept. 19, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen testified that the strike was a "terrorist attack."
On Sept. 20, during an interview with Univision, Obama again declined to label the attack terrorism. "I don't want to speak to something until we have all the information," he said.
However, that same day, Carney acknowledged it is "self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack."
Obama and the White House would later claim they labeled the attack terrorism from the start.
On Sept. 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was "working to determine the precise motivations and methods" of the attackers, while citing the protest in Cairo over the anti-Islam film.
The following day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the department was "very cautious about drawing any conclusions" about who was behind the attack and what the motivations were.
On Sept. 16, despite emerging evidence that the attack involved at least some pre-planning, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice went on five Sunday shows to claim it was spontaneous.
"The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video," she said on "Fox News Sunday."
The next day, Nuland was asked if the department regarded the strike as terrorism, and she said "I don't think we know enough."
On Sept. 21, Clinton used the "terrorist attack" label to describe the assault.
On Sept. 14, Petraeus gave a briefing to lawmakers in which, according to sources, he stressed the link between the anti-Islam film and the Libya attack -- and played down the involvement of terrorist groups.
On Sept. 28, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office issued a detailed statement. In it, the DNI said initial information led the office "to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day" in Cairo, and that information was provided to members of the Executive Branch and Congress.
But, the office said: "As we 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."
On Oct. 19, the story changed again. An intelligence official circulated a revised version of events, acknowledging "extremist" elements were likely involved but claiming "the bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
On Nov. 16, Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill in closed-door hearings that he suspected from the start that the attack was terrorism. According to Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., he told lawmakers that the CIA's original assessment pointed to "Al Qaeda involvement," but that the line was later removed.