The Obama administration came under fire on Wednesday after Reuters and Fox News reported that internal State Department emails revealed that an Islamic militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the Benghazi attacks on social media platforms, but this afternoon, Hillary Clinton fired back saying U.S. intelligence isn't based on random Facebook posts.
"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence," Clinton told the AP while at the State Department. "I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be."
The popular social network became the center of attention after Reuters' Mark Hosenball reported that a State Department e-mail sent to the White House Situation Room and other agencies noted that the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for last month's deadly attack on Facebook and Twitter. "Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli," read the message. It was sent at 6 p.m. Washington time on September 11. The revelation lit up the blogosphere drawing scrutiny from conservative outlets from National Review to The Washington Times as to why the administration wasn't quicker to blame the Al Qaeda-linked group.
But Clinton, who has largely avoided the daily scrum of accusations, rebuttals and denials related to the Benghazi controversy, insisted that time was needed to parse out the conflicting evidence related to the Benghazi attack. "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 for something as complex as an attack like this," she said.
Reaffirming the view that stray Facebook postings are not to be trusted as gospel, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that after the original Facebook posting, the same group later denied responsibility for the attack. "This was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact -- that's why there's an investigation under way," he said.
But don't discount social meda altogether. The administration's biggest break in the manhunt to find the Benghazi killers reportedly came after suspect Ali Harzi posted comments on the attack on social media. That information notified U.S. and Turkish authorities of his existence and triggered a concerted search. Now the AP reports that the Tunisian government has arrested the 28-year-old. “His case is in the hands of justice," said Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Tarrouch Khaled. Social media, folks. Not helpful all the time. Very helpful sometimes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.