The board's report, released Tuesday, also says that the U.S. mission in Benghazi was in communication with Washington, D.C., as the attack was unfolding.
Despite the fact that the eyewitnesses interviewed by the Accountability Review Board said there was no protest, and the scene was caught by security cameras, and the mission was in communication with Washington almost instantly, U.S. government officials, including then-CIA Director David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice would suggest days later that there had been a protest.
According to Rep. Devin Nunes (R.-Calif.), who serves on the House intelligence committee, Petraeus told that committee in closed testimony on Sept. 14 that he believed what had happened in Begnhazi on Sept. 11 arose out of a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
A set of unclassified talking points was subsequently drafted by Petraeus's CIA and used by Amb. Rice when she appeared on television programs on Sunday, Sept. 16. These talking points said that “currently available information” suggested the attack in Benghazi had arisen from a spontaneous demonstration.
"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex,” said the talking points.
“There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations," the talking points continued. "This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated. The investigation is on-going, and the U.S Government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens."
A senior U.S. intelligence official later explained that intelligence analysts did not determine there had been no protest on Sept. 11 at the Benghazi mission until some days after the talking points had been used in public--i.e. by people such as Amb. Rice.
“It was several days after the points were used in public that analysts reconciled contradictory information against new data and assessed there wasn’t a protest at the time of the attack,” said this official.
The State Department report does not explain how senior administration officials later decided there had been a protest in Benghazi when the eyewitness testimony and video surveillance did not say that. The State Department report does not explain why CIA talking points prepared a few days after the attack suggested it arose from a spontaneous demonstration that in fact never happened.
According to the State Department report, when a Turkish diplomat left the U.S. mission on Sept. 11 about two hours before the attack, and when British diplomats returned some vehicles about an hour and a half before the attack, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on.
“At approximately 1940 local , Ambassador Stevens and an accompanying ARSO [assistant regional security officer] escorted a Turkish diplomat to the SMC’s [special mission compound's] main exit at the north C1 gate, where nothing out of the ordinary was noted,” it says.
“Some 30 minutes later, between 2010 and 2030 local, a UK security team supporting a day visit by British diplomats dropped off vehicles and equipment at the SMC (per arrangements made after the UK diplomatic office in Benghazi suspended operations in June 2012)," the report continues. "When the UK security team departed via the C1 gate at about 2030 local, there were no signs of anything unusual, including no roadblocks outside of the compound, and traffic flowed normally.”
Immediately before the attack, a Libyan Supreme Security Council police car that had been parked outside the embassy for about 40 minutes, departed from the scene.
“An SSC police vehicle, which had arrived at the main compound gate (C1) at 2102 local, departed at 2142,” says the report. “The Special Mission had requested that a marked SSC police car be posted outside of the compound 24/7, but in practice a car was there only intermittently.”
It was then the attack started.
“Around the same time, the TDY RSO [temporary duty regional security officer] working in the TOC [tactical operations center] heard shots and an explosion,” says the report. “He then saw via security camera dozens of individuals, many armed, begin to enter the compound through the main entrance at the C1 gate. He hit the duck and cover alarm and yelled a warning over the radio, and recalled no such warning from the February 17 or BML guards, who had already begun to flee to points south and east in the compound, towards the Villa B area. ARSOs 1 and 2 heard an attack warning from the BML guards passed on over the radio. The TDY RSO also alerted the Annex and Embassy Tripoli by cell phone.
“The other three ARSOs behind Villa C also heard gunfire and explosions, as well as chanting, and responded immediately along with ARSO 4, who was inside Villa C,” says the report.
“The Board concluded that no protest took place before the Special Mission and Annex attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity,” say the report.
Nonetheless, two days after this terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, CIA Director Petraeus told the House intelligence committee that there had been a protest outside the mission against the anti-Muslim YouTube video prior to the attack. Two days after Petraeus's testimony, Amb. Rice suggested the same thing on multiple Sunday talk shows.
A senior U.S. official familiary with the drafting of the talking points later explained that there was no effort to mislead or deceive people in drafting them.
“The unclassified talking points were drafted by CIA and reflected what it believed at that point in time," said this official.
"The points were reviewed by CIA leadership and coordinated in the interagency at a senior level," the official said. "The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack. There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly. First, the information about individuals linked to al-Qaeda was derived from classified sources. Second, when links were so tenuous—as they still are—it makes sense to be cautious before pointing fingers so you don’t set off a chain of circular and self-reinforcing assumptions. Third, it is important to be careful not to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages.”
“There was never any effort or intent to mislead or deceive," said the official. "This was a complicated and imperfect coordination process, and no single person had all the information on the edits. At the end of that process, however, the final version was signed off on by all the appropriate people at CIA and throughout the interagency.”