Account of attack that killed ambassador 'based on CIA information'
The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Photo: Getty Images/AFP/Daniel Barry
Washington: A UN ambassador's account of a deadly attack on the US consulate in Libya reflected the CIA's best information at the time, two Democrats on the House intelligence committee have said.
Republicans have said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, misled the public in September when she went on television five days after the attack and said it was the result of militants hijacking a protest against an anti-Islamic video.
Ms Rice has been touted as a potential replacement for Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The President, Barack Obama, leapt to her defence on Wednesday when two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said they would oppose Ms Rice's nomination should Mr Obama choose her as secretary.
Mr Obama said Ms Rice had done "exemplary work" and "to besmirch her reputation is outrageous".
The US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans died in the September 11 attack. The acting CIA Director, Michael Morell, told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing this week that Ms Rice's account was based on an early agency assessment that the attack stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration, congressmen Adam Schiff and Charles Ruppersberger said.
"For those who are claiming the UN ambassador had some different information, they're either unfamiliar with the facts or willfully ignoring them," Mr Schiff said.
Jeff Duncan, a Republican, said at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: "If Ambassador Rice had nothing to do with the Benghazi cover-up, then why did the administration use her as a mouthpiece?"
He has circulated a letter urging Mr Obama not to nominate Ms Rice as secretary of state.
The retired General David Petraeus, who resigned last week as Central Intelligence Agency director after acknowledging an extramarital affair, will brief the House and Senate intelligence panels today in separate closed-door sessions.
General Petraeus told Congress in a briefing soon after the attack that it was spontaneous, but that assessment was preliminary, Congressman Ruppersberger said.
Two weeks later, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said the intelligence community had revised its assessment "to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organised terrorist attack carried out by extremists".
Two department officials have said there were no protests at or near the Benghazi compound the day of the attack.
The Senate committee watched a film that showed the attack taking place. Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican member of the Senate intelligence panel, told CNN the video substantiated revised assessments that there was no protest outside the consulate.
"It's not hard to establish there was no demonstration, there was no crowd," Senator Blunt said. "When this started, it was an act of violence."
Congressman Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said Ms Rice "was given the same information we received from the administration through the intelligence community".