Dozens of armed men invaded the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month, setting it on fire and hunting down staff, U.S. officials said on Tuesday in a dramatic, detailed account of the deadly assault in Libya.
According to an AFP report, the officials said there had been no intelligence to warn that an attack was in the works and in the hours before the streets outside the compound had been calm.
The new account contradicts initial reports by State Department officials made in the hours and days after the September 11 attack that it was a "spontaneous" attack which arose out of a protest against an inflammatory anti-Islam film.
"There was no actionable intelligence of any planned or imminent attack," one top State Department official said, giving a detailed description and timeline of the massive attack on the diplomatic compound and a nearby annex.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the attack, had stayed in the compound that day as it was the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks and had a series of meetings. He walked with his last guest, a Turkish diplomat, to the compound gates around 8:30 p.m. local time.
"They say goodbye, they're out in the streets. Everything is calm, at 8:30pm there's nothing unusual, there has been nothing unusual during the day at all," a second official said, according to AFP.
Asked why initially State Department officials had said there had been a protest against the amateur video "Innocence of Muslims," the first official said that was a question "for others. That was not our conclusion."
Speaking ahead of Wednesday's first public congressional hearing into alleged security failures at the consulate, the official said it was difficult to say what kind of security would have been needed to repel such an attack.
"The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented. There have been no attacks like that in Libya, Tripoli or Benghazi or elsewhere in the time that we have been there," the official was quoted by AFP as having told reporters.
"It would be very, very hard to find a precedent for an attack like that in recent diplomatic history."
The administration of President Barack Obama has come under fire from Republican foes for the contradictory reports which have come out about the attack, amid allegations of security failures.
The former head of a U.S. Special Forces “Site Security Team” (SST) in Libya said that despite his pleas for additional security, the State Department removed as many as 34 security personnel from the country in the six months leading up to the attack in Benghazi.
Lt. Col. Andy Wood said that his 16-member team and a State Department force left Libya in August despite U.S. officials in Libya asking for increased security.
“We tried to illustrate… to show them how dangerous and how volatile and just unpredictable that whole environment was over there,” Wood said in an interview CBS News. “So to decrease security in the face of that really is … it’s just unbelievable.”
He said the embassy staff had approached him to express concerns regarding their safety, but said the State Department instructed diplomatic workers "to do with less."
Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said last week that U.S. officials refused calls for more security at the Benghazi consulate despite previous attacks on Western targets in the city.
The U.S. mission in Libya had made "repeated requests for increased security" but they were ignored by Washington,” Issa said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
U.S. President Barack Obama has admitted that the attack was clearly more than a "mob action.”
Libyan leader Mohammed Magariaf recently stated the attack was not related to the “Innocence of Muslims” film that is being used as an excuse for violent protests in many countries.