The White House this morning attempted to down-play the significance of emails sent to top national security officials during the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, one of which suggested a known terrorist group claimed credit for the attack in its immediate aftermath.
As obtained by ABC News' John Parkinson and posted last night, the emails seem to be ones sent by the State Department Operations Center to distribution lists and email accounts for the top national security officials at the State Department, Pentagon, the FBI, the White House Situation Room and the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
One of the emails reported that officials that Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the Benghazi attack on Facebook and Twitter, and had threatened to attack the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
In the first couple weeks after the attack, the White House and Obama administration generally blamed the attack on a demonstration an anti-Muslim video that got out of control. On September 14, White House press secretary Jay Carney asserted that " we have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack." Only later would the Obama administration say the attack was planned.
White House officials maintained that the emails don't contradict what the White House believed at that point, based on the intelligence community's assessment of the attack. The views of the intelligence community are valued far more than Facebook and twitter claims, officials said, describing that email as an unclassified ops alert email, not a vetted intelligence assessment. It was not definitive, but rather the act of flagging open source reporting referencing a Facebook post, and - officials noted - on September 17, Ansar al-Sharia denied responsibility for the attack.
Carney today told reporters that there were emails about all sorts of information that was coming available in the aftermath of the 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."
Moreover, officials said, the intelligence community still believes there wasn't a tremendous amount of planning before the attack. A terrorist group carrying it out doesn't mean it wasn't an opportunistic attack, officials said.
The first email , with a subject line of "U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack," sent about 25 minutes after the attack began, states: "Regional Security Officer reports the diplomatic mission is under attack. Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM (Chief of Mission) personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support."
The next email sent at 4:54 PM states that the shooting has stopped and the compound was cleared, adding that a response team was "onsite attempting to locate COM personnel."
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