Immediately after the murder of Chris Stevens, America's Ambassador to Libya, I suggested that the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 could have profound consequences for President Barack Obama, particulary if he failed to take appropriate action against the murderers – the most likely candidates being members of al-Qaeda's new terror franchise in Mali.
But with the US presidential contest entering its critical final phase, the Obama administration deftly avoided getting into any controversy over the murder of Mr Stevens and three other members of the consulate staff by leading everyone to believe the murders were not part of an al-Qaeda plot, but the result of an outbreak of violence caused by a blaphemous film clip. This was certainly the line advanced by Dr Susan Rice, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and a close confidante of Mr Obama.
Dr Rice, in common with other senior officials in the Obama administration, insisted that the assault on the US consulate had been "spontaneous", rather than a carefully planned attack by terrorists. By making this claim, the White House effectively silenced any criticism that the Obama administration was culpable for not taking more effective measures to protect the consulate.
But now it appears that Rice's version of events – endorsed by the White House – was wrong. Within 24 hours of the attack taking place, Washington was informed by a variety of intelligence sources that the attack had indeed been pre-planned and was undoubtedly the work of al-Qaeda which, apart from attacking the consulate, had also attacked the CIA's safe house in Benghazi.
As a result, rather than absolving itself of any blame for this tragic incident, the White House – and Mr Obama – now find themselves at the centre of a mounting storm over what precisely they knew about the attack on the consulate, and when.
Now that Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has confirmed there was an explicit link between al-Qaeda and the attack, questions are being asked about the role Dr Rice played in trying to play down the significance of the attack. The Republicans have already called for her to resign from her post for misleading the American people.
But the real smoking gun is whether the Obama administration was warned in advance that al-Qaeda was planning an attack. A number of Israeli newspapers have suggested that Washington was warned as early as September 4 – a week earlier – that the environment in Benghazi was becoming increasingly hostile and anti-American, while in London the Foreign Office took the decision to withdraw all its consular staff from Benghazi two months before the murders. This decision was based on an intelligence assessment made by MI6 that al-Qaeda was openly operating in the area following a failed assassination attempt on Sir Dominic Asquith, Britain's ambassador to Libya, in June.
It is well known that British intelligence works closely with its counterpart in America, and if MI6 knew al-Qaeda was operating in the Benghazi region, then it is highly likely that the CIA did too.
Suddenly the Administration's "it's nothing to do with us, guv," defence is starting to look rather thin, with potentially disastrous consequences for Mr Obama's re-election prospects.
Labels: al-Qaeda» Ambassador Chris Stevens» Barack Obama» Chris Stevens» cover-up» Libya» Susan Rice