ORLANDO, Fla. -— There was no specific tactical warning intelligence preceding the September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an attack that took the lives of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, according to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.
“We didn’t have that,” Clapper told an audience Oct. 9 at the GEOINT Symposium, a conference of intelligence officials and defense contractors.
Debate over the attack, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, has been fiercely political. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of being misleading in its early characterization of the incident.
Early on, White House officials indicated the attack was spontaneous, caused by a riot driven by anger over a notorious anti-Muslim film.
More then two weeks after the assault on the compound in Benghazi, on Sept. 28, Clapper’s office issued a statement calling the incident a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”
But Clapper underscored on Oct. 9 that the U.S. had no specific intelligence about the attack before it took place.
“The challenge,” he said, “is always the tactical warning: the exact insight ahead of the time that such an attack was going to take place, and obviously we didn’t have that.”
Clapper told the symposium that the rioting that day was of an immense scale worldwide.
“We had demonstrations — some were quite violent — in some 54 countries at the height of this recent siege,” he said.
Clapper also addressed the issue of sequestration — which will occur if Congress fails to modify a law mandating federal spending cuts before January — and its impact on intelligence gathering. It would be “painful,” he said.
“I’ll do my best to obviate the impact,” he said.
Still, he pointed out, even with the cuts, the intelligence budget would be at about 2008 or 2009 levels.