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Hillary on Benghazi reports: Facebook is not evidence

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplayed reports Wednesday that the White House was made aware that extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi through a Facebook posting the night of the attack. "Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and ...

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Getty Images
Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplayed reports Wednesday that the White House was made aware that extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi through a Facebook posting the night of the attack.

"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be," Clinton said today. "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed, and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders. And I think that that is what we have said, that is what we are doing, and I'm very confident that we will achieve those goals."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplayed reports Wednesday that the White House was made aware that extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi through a Facebook posting the night of the attack.

"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be," Clinton said today. "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed, and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders. And I think that that is what we have said, that is what we are doing, and I’m very confident that we will achieve those goals."

Clinton was responding to today’s revelation of emails sent on the night of the attack from the State Department operations center to administration officials describing the assault as it was in progress and noting that the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility that day on Facebook and Twitter.

"Look, I’ve said it and I’ll say it one more time: No one wants to find out what happened more than I do. We are holding ourselves accountable to the American people because not only they, but our brave diplomats and development experts serving in dangerous places around the world, deserve no less," she said. "The independent Accountability Review Board is already hard at work looking at everything-not cherry-picking one story here or one document there, but looking at everything, which I highly recommend as the appropriate approach to something as complex as an attack like this."

The first email, sent on Sept. 11 at 4:05 p.m. Washington time, reported that 20 armed men had fired on the compound, that explosions were heard, and that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other personnel were in the compound safe haven. The second email at 4:54 stated that the shooting had stopped. The third email said that Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit on Facebook and Twitter.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today that the operations center has the responsibility to report on open source information it finds and sometimes that includes multiple reports of responsibility after an attack. The operations center reporting is not meant to be definitive, she said.

"In keeping folks informed, the Ops Center obviously is looking at the totality of what’s out there in the public domain.  When things begin to become picked up, when they become something that people are talking about, they obviously have a responsibility to inform principals.  But it is not the job of the Operations Center in passing these things on to analyze them, to weight them in any way, shape, or form," she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters today that the emails don’t directly contradict his own comments after the attack, such as on Sept. 14 when he said, "We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack."

"There was a variety of information coming in," Carney said. "The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgments about what happened and who was responsible."

Regardless, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) sent a letter to President Barack Obama demanding an explanation as to how the new reports reconcile with administration accounts of the attack at the time and since.

"These emails make clear that your Administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it. This latest revelation only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your Administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways that you did," they wrote.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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