Benghazi Witness: 'We Felt It Was Ansar al-Sharia'

By Susan Jones | May 1, 2014 | 11:34am EDT

The Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi left the U.S. mission in ruins. (AP File Photo)

( - It quickly became clear that the attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 "were attributable to an Islamic extremist group," Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell told a congressional hearing on Thursday.

"We felt it was Ansar al-Sharia," a group affiliated with al Qaeda, Lovell said; and he said he came to that conclusion "very very soon" after the attack, "when we were still in the very early, early hours of this activity."

Lovell was an intelligence officer with the U.S. Africa Command on the night when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

"Was it a video that sparked a protest?" Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asked.

"No sir," Lovell replied.

Chaffetz erupted: "The scandal that is here, that some choose to ignore as a phony scandal, is the fact that the CIA -- the CIA station chief -- the military themselves -- you have the person sitting in front of us, who's the head of intelligence, looking at the intelligence -- they come to the conclusion that it was Ansar al-Sharia. And then you also have the Department of State telling the Libyans that it was Ansar al-Sharia.

"None of them think it's a video. None of them! The military, the CIA, the CIA station chief, the State Department, all of them -- the facts at the time, Mr. Chairman, the facts do not point to a video. That only comes from the White House."

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is probing whether the White House deliberately misled the public -- blaming the attack on a protest arising from a YouTube video to avoid criticism of Obama's Libya's policy ahead of the 2012 election. At the time, Obama was telling Americans that al Qaeda was "on the run."

Chaffetz on Thursday also asked about the administration's response, noting that U.S. military assets in Europe were never dispatched to Benghazi. Why not?

"Basically, there was a lot of looking to the State Department for what it was that they wanted; and the deference to the Libyan people and the sense of deference to the desires of the State Department, what they would like to happen," Lovell responded.

"Do they ever tell you to go save the people in Benghazi?" Chaffetz asked.

"Not to my knowledge, sir," Lovell said.

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