Getting the Facts on Benghazi

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Getting the Facts on Benghazi

Getting the Facts on Benghazi

Monday, October 19, 2015
3:00PM EST

In anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s appearance before the House Benghazi Committee on October 22, the National Security Network is hosting a press call on Monday, October 19 at 3PM, with two former Obama Administration officials who are familiar with the events surrounding the 2012 Benghazi attack as well as the broader situation in Libya. The officials will provide background information and will answer questions on-the-record to assist reporters in understanding the timeline and consequences of the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi.

EXPERTS

Matthew Olsen is a Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and currently is a lecturer at Harvard and a National Security Analyst for ABC News. Prior to joining NCTC, Olsen was the General Counsel for the National Security Agency and served as Associate Deputy Attorney General.

Derek Chollet, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, is counselor and senior advisor at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. He writes a monthly column for Defense One, is also an advisor to Beacon Global Strategies and an Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.

MODERATOR

John Bradshaw, J.D.,  is the Executive Director of the National Security Network. Prior to joining NSN, Bradshaw served as the Executive Director of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress. Bradshaw served as Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights. He also worked as a Senior Advisor at the Open Society Policy Center. Previously, Bradshaw was a Foreign Service Officer, serving in Venezuela, Brazil, and Burma, as well as in the State Department’s East Asia and Human Rights bureaus. He also served as a foreign policy advisor to Senator Paul Wellstone and to Senator Robert Torricelli, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier in his career, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines.

Listen to press call audio here:

FULL TRANSCRIPT

John Bradshaw: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m John Bradshaw, Executive Director of the National Security Network. Thanks for joining us today.
Today’s call will be addressing some of the issues and questions surrounding the 2012 Benghazi attacks. We have two panelists with extensive knowledge of the events and context surrounding the attacks, and also the aftermath of the attacks. First, we’ll have Derek Chollet, who is a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and is now Counselor and Senior Advisor at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Derek will lay out some of the context of the situation in Libya at the time of the attacks in Benghazi and then also talk about Secretary Clinton’s overall role from the beginning to the end of that episode.

Next we’ll have Matthew Olsen who is a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and is currently a lecturer at Harvard and a national security analyst for ABC News. Matt will talk about the situation right before the attacks, the days leading up to the attacks, and he can give us a tick tock timeline of what was known inside the Administration and the responses that were crafted inside the Administration. Each of our presenters will speak briefly and make a brief presentation. Then we will open up the floor to questions. This is an on the record call.  Thanks everyone.

Derek Chollet: Matt and I are going to divide the labor a little bit. I’ll try to provide a broader perspective of the situation in Libya that helps puts the context for the events of September 2012 in Benghazi. My perspective, coming from someone who during the war itself in 2011, I was serving at the White House and was very involved in the making of Libya policy but then moved over the Pentagon in early-mid 2012 and also remained involved in Libya policy from my perspective at the Pentagon, so I’ve been a close watcher of our efforts to first address the threat from Gaddafi but then help the people of Libya over the last several years. As we’re all going to be thinking about, looking at the hearing on Thursday, I think obviously they’ll be a lot of discussion about the specific events of September 2012 and Benghazi, but I think also it’s going to be an opportunity to take stock and reflect back on our engagement with Libya over the last several years. So with that in mind I’ll try to cover three areas in the next five minutes or so. First, why we went into Benghazi, how we conducted the operation, and then of course, how we handled the aftermath.

So, first on the question of why we went in, and this is an issue that is of course is still very much with us as we saw that came up again in the debate – the Democratic debate the other night, with questions raised of whether it was worth it – our intervention in March 2011. I think it’s important for us to reflect back about where we were in February and March 2011 as the situation in Libya began to unravel, and at the time we felt we were confronting a very fundamental choice and we had a murderous dictator, Gaddafi, who had American blood on his hands a record of support for international terrorism who was murdering civilians and looking as though he was going to murder a lot more as his forces were bearing down on Benghazi. We were hearing that not only from our own assessments and intelligence but also importantly we were hearing this from our allies: the Brits, the French, the Italians, others. We were hearing it from the Arab League. We’re hearing it from journalists on the ground in Libya who were reporting about the humanitarian catastrophe that was looming and there was a sense that the United States needed to act and, if we had failed to act in March 2011, that we could have witnessed – probably would have witnessed- a humanitarian catastrophe. Those of us in the government at the time who has had some experience in the Balkans in the 1990s, and remembered well the massacre at Srebrenica twenty years ago, we saw what was looming in Libya as a Srebrenica on steroids. So of course we did act. We did we did so without putting a single American boot on the ground and we did so with allies and partners.

I think it’s important to recall that at the moment, in February and March, as the situation was beginning to unravel, the Obama administration was criticized for moving too slowly. There were many calling for the president to act even quicker than he did. And I think he is important that he took the time first to ensure that America’s diplomatic personnel and American citizens could be evacuated from Libya and that was not an easy task. It involved contracting a ferry and a pretty massive effort to get our people out of Libya. But then once the many Americans who wanted to leave left, then the question became trying to put together this coalition. And of course the president, when he decided intervene, did so in a way that we felt was most consistent with our interests or the United States would be in the front, at the at the beginning of the operation, with a coalition of the willing but led by our U.S. forces to help prepare the battlefield for European and other partners to step up and get into the fight and of course it was a NATO military operation. And so after several weeks of U.S. led bombing, then the U.S. turned the primary responsibility for the mission over to NATO. Of course since we are the most important player in a NATO it meant that it was a U.S. commander who was leading the operation and U.S. military forces were still deeply involved in the war itself – providing support and unique capabilities, obviously intelligence and surveillance but also airlift and precision strikes. So then of course you all know, six months go by, Gaddafi is overrun by rebel forces backed by NATO air power, and the conduct of the campaign was very important – this is where Secretary Clinton played a very important role because putting together that international coalition, getting the international mandate, the U.N. Security Council support that authorized the operation, getting the Arab League to back the operation – none of this happened by accident. It was the result of tough, painstaking, patient diplomacy – this is something I watched unfold from the White House. And Secretary Clinton was very much on the front lines of trying to make that happen. I think it’s safe to say she was the critical player in getting European partners to agree to have NATO lead the operation. She was also critical in ensuring that the Arab partners, who stepped up and participated in the military campaign, fulfilled those pledges that they had made, and also was a critical player in the diplomatic support effort that was constructed in the in the so-called contact group to both manage the military campaign and then the diplomacy that backed it but also to help begin support for the Libyan opposition.
And that then leads me to the third aspect of it, which is how we handle the aftermath and that architecture of support for Libya that the United States helped establish was what was there in place for when Gaddafi was removed from power in the fall of 2011. We never thought that post-war Libya was going to be easy. In fact some of our concerns about the challenges that Libya would face after Gaddafi left was one of the reasons why we took our time to get involved in this campaign in the first place. We certainly began planning for post-Gaddafi Libya before the intervention because of course we assumed and we hoped that Gaddafi would leave eventually, although initially we hoped that would be done peacefully. But we were working early on with the opposition to Libyan opposition to try to make them more coherent and capable and this was something that the State Department was deeply involved in. Secretary Clinton had several meetings throughout the course of the of the military campaign with the Libyan opposition and established various working groups to work with the Libyan opposition to try to make them more organized, capable, and ready to take charge when Gaddafi went. It’s important to remember and recall that the world had a lot of optimism for Libya. After Gaddafi fell, there was a sense that Libya had a lot going for it at the time it was a rather relatively small population and of course had energy resources and strong ties to Europe. It had a tremendous international support and buy in. So even though we never were under any illusion that this was going to be easy, we did see tremendous potential there. And after the Libyan war, after Gaddafi fell and after the NATO air campaign ended, the U.S., led by Secretary Clinton, continued to engage very closely with the interim government as they tried to make sense of the mess that Gaddafi had left for them to reconstruct. We offered a range of assistance and programs designed to help the Libyans to take advantage of their newfound liberties and to help establish stability. And while some of these programs were successful, Libya, for example held its first democratic election since the 1950s, the U.S. and Europeans had worked with Libyans also to help destroy their remaining chemical weapons, some of which were had been there under lock and key under Gaddafi and some of which were discovered that Gaddafi had not had not come clean, funding civil society groups, working with United Nations and the European Union to help on issues like border assistance. There were a whole host of things that the international community was doing, and the United States was doing to help the Libyans. One of the challenges we had was funding. On the U.S. side frequently we sought additional funding for these critical and timely programs inside Libya. Unfortunately, Congress refused the requests for additional funding. There are many Congress who argued – “Why should we spend additional funds for an oil rich country?” There are some members of Congress to who are our allies in that effort but unfortunately they were not in charge of the appropriations. But these are resources that the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton specifically fought for. We also had to grapple with what I think of is the paradox of post war Libya, in that the Libyans very much wanted international help – they were looking to Europe and the United States for support to deal with the tremendous challenges they had, but they were also fiercely independent and they were resistant. In fact, they rejected the idea of having any international troops on the ground, of having the United States or European partners be too involved in their governance. So there are many practical ways that we were looking to help them but it just became harder and harder to get to the cooperation we need to from their side to be able to help them help themselves.

And then there was the other issue of risk. And Secretary Clinton talked about this in the debate the other night – the challenge of U.S. diplomats operating in difficult, dangerous environments. I can tell you firsthand, I know Secretary Clinton was always extremely focused on the safety and security of our diplomats. As I noted earlier, one of the reasons why we took great care early on in this crisis in February of 2011 was because of the concern we had for the U.S. diplomats and other American citizens that were in Libya as this uprising began and we wanted to make sure to get them out. One of the great tragedies of the events of Benghazi is, in addition to losing a good friend and colleague and champion of Libya’s potential, Chris Stevens, it made the tolerance in our political system for risk to do things to help with Libya very low. It was very difficult, in any event, before Benghazi, and it became almost impossible after Benghazi for our diplomats, when they did return to Tripoli, to be able to work effectively, to be able to do their jobs, and offer the Libyans the help that we very much wanted to give them. And then of course the security situation became so perilous that we had to pull our embassy out and effectively take away our tool box, which is where we are today. So with that, why don’t I turn it over to Matthew, who will talk a little more specific specificity about Benghazi and then we’re happy to take your questions. Thanks again.

Matthew Olsen: Thank you. I will focus my brief remarks more narrowly on the events immediately surrounding the Benghazi attacks: the days before, the attacks themselves, and of course, the immediate aftermath. Let me first say in terms of my own involvement and position at the time, I was in 2012 the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and for those of you who may not know, the N.C.T.C. is a post-9/11 organization responsible for analyzing and integrating terrorism information for the federal government. We were given the role immediately following Benghazi of putting together the definitive government-wide timeline for what actually happened. So our analysts spent the initial days and weeks pulling together all the information that was available whether it was from intelligence sources or from open sources to really create what became sort of the definitive account within the government of what occurred. We briefed Congress a number of times, both committees as well as at least one full session of the House. The timeline itself, as I mentioned pulled together open source information, interviews, it also included surveillance tapes and overhead video from the Predator that went on the scene. So I will talk before turning over to questions about what the situation was in Benghazi, the threat environment right in the immediate days leading up to the attacks, the critical events of the attacks, and then some of the key points that I would suggest should be taken away from what we know.

So it begins with the threat situation. In the months leading up to the attack in Benghazi, the security situation in Benghazi, and actually in Libya more generally, had deteriorated significantly. In Benghazi alone there were more than twenty attacks against Western and international interests in 2012, and this included in particular an attack on a British diplomatic convoy that occurred in June of 2012. And in the year preceding the attack, the intelligence community, of which NCTC is a part, had published more than fifty finished intelligence reports on the security situation in eastern Libya, on the groups operating there, as well as highlighting the limited capacity of the Libyan security forces. So bottom line is that given the volume of this information, it was clear at the time that at the general proposition, policymakers had some degree of warning of the threat picture in Benghazi and eastern Libya, and had a sense of the demonstrated capability and intent of the extremists operating there to target U.S. and Western interests. At the same time, it’s important to note that we had no intelligence information at the time that would have provided any specific tactical warnings about the Benghazi attacks. We went back and looked to see if we had missed anything, if there was any specific information. And I think all of the reviews that I’ve looked at concluded, as we did at the time, that there was no specific information that would have allowed us to provide a tactical warning about the attacks on September 11, 2012.

So now let me turn quickly to the attacks themselves and give an outline of the key events that this is going to necessarily be just hitting some of the high points in terms of what actually occurred. First recall that Ambassador Stevens traveled from Tripoli to Benghazi on September 10th, the day before, for a series of meetings. And then that day, September 10th, there were protests in Cairo, at the American Embassy where protesters scaled the walls and pulled down the American flag. On September 11th, the initial attack on the State Department facility- and there are two facilities here, which is critical to recall, and I’ll refer to both of them. One is the State Department, one is the CIA facility. But the initial attack at the State Department facility began at around 9:40 PM Benghazi time. At that point, dozens of men, some armed some not armed, approached the State Department compound and they were quickly able to breach the front gate. Within minutes, the attackers set fire to several buildings in the compound and one of those buildings was the main villa where Amb. Stevens and two other State Department officers sought refuge in a safe room. The attackers quickly were able to overrun the compound and they set fires and looted the buildings. Shortly after the initial overrunning or entering of the compound at 9:42, a State Department diplomatic security agent notified the CIA annex of the attack. Now, that CIA annex was located about 2.4 kilometers from the State Department facility, and several other actions occurred right around the same time. First, CIA annex team which was five officers left the annex for the State Department and they arrived at the State Department facility about forty five minutes later. The Defense Department redirected one of their unarmed Predators to Benghazi. It arrived shortly after 11 P.M. and then a security team in Tripoli departed by air from Tripoli at around 12:15 A.M. By 11 P.M. that night the U.S. personnel the State Department were facing gunfire, RPG fire. They were unable to locate Amb. Stevens. They did locate the body of another State Department person who is deceased, Sean Smith. He was a State Department information officer. Now between 11:15-11:30 P.M. all the U.S. personnel left the State Department facility by vehicle to go to the CIA annex, because it was no longer tenable to remain in the State Department facility. And at 11:36, there were 26 U.S. personnel at the CIA annex. Meanwhile, the seven person team from Tripoli arrived in Benghazi and began what turned out to be a lengthy to negotiation with local militia in an effort to get an escort for the CIA annex. They arrived at that annex few hours later at 5 A.M. and it was shortly after that within minutes of their arrival, after 5A.M., that the annex was attacked. Three mortar rounds hit one of the buildings and those mortar rounds killed two security officers – Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Two other officers were injured. The chief of base in Benghazi then made the decision to evacuate and then by 11:30 A.M. all U.S. personnel were out of Benghazi and in Tripoli. So all told, two American security guards were killed by the mortar shells and then Amb. Stevens and Sean Smith died from suffocation in the State Department facility.

Now in terms of from my perspective, the handful of really critical points to take away from this: we didn’t have any specific intelligence warning of the attacks but we certainly were aware that the general security situation in Benghazi was high risk for Americans. The initial attack on the State Department facility, from our perspective appeared to be haphazard and opportunistic. That’s from watching the surveillance tapes, seeing the Predator video, and eyewitness reports. That was no indication of extensive pre-planning or coordination with regard to the attack on the State Department facility. Again, some of those attackers were not armed, there’s no indication of any centralized command and control and many of them appeared more interested in looting the buildings. It’s not clear they even were aware that the ambassador was located on the compound. As a fact I think that’s still not known whether they had awareness of that. By contrast the mortar attack on the CIA annex, which occurred hours later, was coordinated and proficient. And remember that Benghazi at that time was awash in weapons and centrally overrun by trained militia with varying loyalties. Now the days following the attacks we had inconsistent, contradictory reports about the attacks. This is actually always the case after something like this. We had more than 21 reports initially that there had been a protest at the State Department compound. Most of those from the press, some from intelligence sources, although it was later confirmed by the surveillance tapes in interviews that there was no protest, in fact, at the State Department facility. Also, the initial intelligence assessment concluded that members of Ansar al Sharia and Al Qaeda affiliates probably participated in the attacks. This was early on, based on intelligence sources, but to this day we still have significant gaps in our knowledge base – I use we and our, I am not in the government anymore. At the time I left government a year ago there remained gaps in the knowledge about the motivations and affiliations and identities of the attackers. Now one of the attackers, Ahmed Abu Khattala, as you know is awaiting trial here in in Washington for his role in the attacks. He’s described in the indictment as the leader of Ansar al Sharia, who conspired with others to attack at the facility and kill U.S. citizens. So those I think are some key takeaways from what we saw in from the intelligence community in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. And with that I’ll stop in and be happy to answer questions.

John Bradshaw: Thanks Matt. This is John Bradshaw again from NSN. Thanks Matt, thanks Derek. We will now turn it over to our questions and answers. We’re going to set up a queue for reporters and take as many questions as we can up until 4P.M. NSN’s Communications Director, Adrian Arroyo, is going to come on now explain the process for how you get into the queue.

Adrian Arroyo: Sure. I’m showing Michael Warren with a question.

Michael Warren: Thanks everyone for doing this call. This question I guess is for both Derek and Matt. One of the issues that’s come up because of this committee and probably what they’re going to be asking the former Secretary about is this email server. I’m just wondering if either of you knew that Hillary Clinton had a private email server and do you approve of her having this e-mail server.

Derek Chollet: I can say, no I did not know. And I’m just going to pass on the approval – it’s not really for me to say. That’s one thing I will say on the general issue, having served at the think the State Department, White House, and Pentagon is as a country we need to do a fundamental sort of rethink of how we handle what is unclassified communications but yet still sensitive and…You know I don’t think any agency claims that they’ve got this right. So there’s a much larger issue here that needs to be a addressed, it’s not part of where things are on servers, but it’s overall security issues when it comes to things that are not intelligence related, not military operational sensitive, but not been classified.

Matthew Olsen: I did not know about the e-mail server and will also pass on the second part of that question.

 

Justin Fishel: This is Justin Fishel with ABC, can you guys hear me? So what new questions do you think might be posed to the Secretary on Thursday that she hasn’t heard before that she’s prepping to answer? Any insight into what might be going on there?

Matthew Olsen: It’s hard to think of anything new or in terms of the actual facts surrounding the attacks on Benghazi, both from a law enforcement or intelligence perspective so I don’t have much to offer you.

Derek Chollet: Yeah I just want to second that. I think Secretary Clinton before she left the State Department, I think prepared for, in the House and Senate, four or five hours of questioning. Of course, Amb. Pickering and Admiral Mullen led the internal review the State Department that I know she was fully briefed on so I don’t know what more could be asked.

Catherine Herridge: Thank you. Catherine Herridge over at Fox News, I’ve got a question from Matt and then a follow up for Derek. CIA Director Petraeus and DIA Director Flynn have both either testified or said publicly they concluded it was terrorism within twenty four hours and that there was no role of the video. Was that also your assessment at the time?

Matthew Olsen: It certainly was my assessment, and I think shared centrally by everyone that I was working with, on the night of the attacks, in the days after, that this was terrorism. And that’s something that never changed – so that was consistent throughout and it was never an issue around whether it was terrorism. It was very much, and it still remains an open question to some degree how the role, the motivations, the affiliations, how much planning went into this. At the time, these were key questions that we were trying to determine at the time and I think to some degree remain open questions. I don’t think it’s the case that we concluded that the video played no role. In fact I think that there’s still…

Catherine Herridge: Maybe I want to rephrase it – because the point that I’ve always been drawn to as you sort of rightly indicated earlier was the accuracy in the premeditation in the mortar strike on the annex. I guess maybe a better way to phrase it is the role of a demonstration in the attack.

Matthew Olsen: Right. Well it really took several days to really determine that there had not been a protest. That was actually not until there was an opportunity to view surveillance tape and to have F.B.I. interviews of some of the people who were directly involved. The initial reports as I mentioned – there were 21 initial reports- most of them from the press, but some from intelligence sources that there had been a protest. Which was at least plausible in light of what had happened earlier that day in Cairo. So, the initial working assumption was that that appeared to be accurate, that there had been protests. And that there was an opportunistic aspect to the actual attacks as they played out over the course of that evening into several hours later that morning, leading to what was clearly a coordinated attack on the CIA annex.

Catherine Herridge: I mean I can’t speak for Petraeus or Flynn but their assessment seems to be a slightly different. In any event, Derek, I have a question for you: We have obtained an e-mail that went to the Joint Staff the Libya working group team March 18, 2011 and it was an offer from Gaddafi to have discussions or find some sort of peaceful way out for him and his family. Were you aware of this offer? And if so what happened to that offer? And then I do have a follow up.

Derek Chollet: I was not aware of that specific offer. I’ve since read about it. I can say that throughout the course of the conflict there was a lot of discussions back and forth, freelancing negotiators and we of course had a UN envoy, there was an EU envoy, there was a Russian chess player who at one point tried to go in to negotiate with the Gaddafi forces. I myself participated in what was I think was supposed to be a secret, although it was only a secret the lasted about forty hours, a set of discussions along with Jeff Feltman and Gene Cretz, who was our Amb. to Libya and Jeff was our assistant secretary for the Middle East at the State Department, a discussion in Tunis in July 2011 with representatives of the Gaddafi regime to try to get them to negotiate the peaceful departure of Gaddafi. Well, they were not really interested in talking about that and it was an attempt to try to find a diplomatic outcome that didn’t go very far. So I’m not surprised when I hear about kind of these random folks reaching out.

Catherine Herridge: This went to General Jacoby though, this was not just a random freelancer offer. I mean it came through the Joint Staff and was considered credible.

Derek Chollet: I don’t know where it was coming from. I mean I don’t know who the references to the representative was. I mean at that point Gaddafi was seen as completely complicit in the situation within Libya. So that is it so there was no shortage of that kind of discussion. There were the U.N. negotiators throughout this campaign to try to negotiate an end of the war. But unfortunately without success.

Catherine Herridge: I’m going to follow up because when the call was advertised – and this is for the sake of transparency – it says you’re an advisor to Beacon Global Strategies. Now Beacon is run by Philippe Reines and Andrew Schapiro, among others, who have a vested interest in the outcome of this investigation. Did they ask you to participate in this call? Are they paying for your participation in the call? What’s the connection here?

Derek Chollet: No. I don’t even know they don’t even know that I’m doing this.

Catherine Herridge: OK but you do consult for them, correct? Because you’re an advisor to Beacon Global Strategies.

Derek Chollet: That is true. Among many others, yes.

John Bradshaw: This is John Bradshaw. Just to be clear about it, the National Security Network asked both of our panelists to appear, so they were doing it at our direct request and they’re not being compensated for it all.

Catherine Herridge: OK. I just wanted to be clear.

John Bradshaw: Other questions from reporters on the call. Please go ahead.

Brendan Kirby: Yeah this is Brendan Kirby with Lifezette. All right. I just wanted to – I think was Matt that was talking about the role of additional security and budgetary issues. I wanted to elaborate – are you saying that security resources were not in place because it hadn’t be appropriated?

Matthew Olsen: So I didn’t actually make a comment one way or the other about resources or appropriation of resources for security measures. My main point on this was to comment on the security situation in Benghazi, which had deteriorated significantly. And that there had been a number of attacks on Western interests in Benghazi in the months leading up to September 11, 2012.

Brendan Kirby: I believe the Pickering report pointed some of that out and said that there were errors that were made in keeping the facility open or not providing additional security. Do you have any insight as to why that was done that way and was there a lack of resources available or was it just policy decision not to do it?

Matthew Olsen: Yeah. I would just refer to that report. I mean I don’t have any particular insights on that question.

John Bradshaw: If anyone has any additional questions and then if not we’ll let Matt and Derek close out with any thoughts they’ve had during the call that they have not expressed or any final comments they want to make.

Catherine Herridge: I don’t want to beat a dead horse here but Matt I want to go back to your statement that you knew it was terrorism will take the demonstration piece out of it within twenty four hours. Was this communicated up the chain at the point to the White House?

Matthew Olsen: Your question is whether or not it was communicated up the chain to the White House that it was a terrorist attack? I don’t recall any explicit discussion of whether this was a terrorist attack or not. Remember I was the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and we were immediately brought in, we were on a secure video call all evening, starting, I don’t recall exact time in Washington, but I would say kind of early evening into the night with the rest of the usual counterterrorism team. So this was being treated from my vantage point, from the outset as a terrorist attack. There was never any question about, that there was never any question that was anything other what.

Catherine Herridge: I’m just trying to understand because when you look at the C.B.S. interview with Steve Kroft and the president on that day, Kroft specifically asked him why he avoided the terrorism term. And he says it’s too early to know exactly how this came about what group was involved. Obviously it was an attack on Americans. I’m trying to understand – would it be standard procedure for you to communicate this to N.S.T.? I’m just trying to understand where the disconnect was if there was one.

Matthew Olsen: I don’t really see it as a disconnect. In other words, the counterterrorism community, of which I was part, was working this is as a terrorist attack. And there was every indication was that that’s exactly what we’re dealing with. The president’s statements I think reflect exactly accurate situation, which was there was a lot we didn’t know. We didn’t know who, we didn’t know again a number of questions about motivation and planning. So that was an accurate statement by the president.

Catherine Herridge: I don’t know. I mean Kroft’s question is: do you believe that this was a terrorist attack? And the answer, is well it’s too early to know. Anyway, I’m just trying to understand what happened there but it may be hard to know. Anyway thanks for taking the follow up.

John Bradshaw: OK. Thanks to everyone for joining. I believe and Adrian Arroyo our Communications Director can answer any question you have about how to access that or any follow up questions you may think of that we can pass on to Matt and Derek.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee. [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accessed 10/21/15]

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