It took quite some time for senior administration officials to admit what they appear to have known all along, but both President Obama and Hillary Clinton have begun to acknowledge that the September 11 attack on the Libyan consulate was the work al-Qaeda linked terrorists. During a meeting at the United Nations yesterday, Clinton became the highest ranking administration member to say publicly that terrorists were behind the attack that killed Libyan ambassador Christopher Stevens. While she didn't explicitly link al-Qaeda to the attack, she did connect the Libyan incident to other groups in the region, saying that "violent extremists" are working to "undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi."
However, State Department officials pushed back on The New York Times report on Thursday morning. According to CBS's Margaret Brennan, they emphasized that there is no evidence, in either direction, and that Clinton was not directly linking al-Qaeda to the attack.
President Obama did not himself address the connection to terrorism, but White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday that "It is the president's view that it was a terrorist attack," underscoring Obama's own pledge before the U.N. to seek out and destroy the perpetrators.
While the public acknowledgement is an important step it will only ramp up criticism of the government's early response to the attack, which was both confused and contradictory. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal today lambastes the administration both for its "gross security failure" and its bungled attempts at explaining it in the immediate aftermath. Early attempts to paint the attack as a "spontaneous reaction" to the anti-Islam video "Innocence of Muslims" have mostly been debunked and the government officials have seemed clueless or evasive.
Unfortunately, attempts to dig deeper into the evidence have thwarted by security concerns and more bureaucratic fighting. Fifteen days after the attack took place the FBI had still not been granted access to Benghazi and the compound has never been secured as a crime scene. Most of the evidence so far has been uncovered by reporters and at this point it seems unlikely that the FBI would even find anything useful. No matter the outcome of the investigation, the administration will still have to answer questions about lax security and threat warnings that appear to have been ignored.