The White House received emails from the State Department that said the Islamist militia group Ansar al-Sharia had used social media to claim responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi within hours of last month’s assault, American officials said Wednesday.
But Ansar al-Sharia disavowed the claim -- which appeared on Facebook and Twitter -- the following day. It was one of many conflicting accounts to emerge in the chaotic hours after the attack in the eastern Libyan city.
When asked about the emails, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that “posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence” and added that this “underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time, and continued for some time, to be.”
The assault, which came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The emails, called “op reports,” were among hundreds that poured into government agencies that night, officials told NBC News. All of these messages had to be analyzed and assessed before decisions could be made or action taken, officials said.
"These emails are unclassified from the operation center and go to hundreds, if not thousands of people,” a White House official told NBC News.
“They basically say: we are under fire,” the official said.
Multiple terror groups often claim credit for the same attack, which makes it nearly impossible to draw conclusions immediately from such intelligence reports, officials said.
U.S. officials told NBC News that the public emergence of the emails added little that was new to the understanding of the U.S. response to the attack.
"Intelligence professionals follow the information wherever it leads to build a coherent picture of what's being assessed. Each report is carefully considered and everything credible is used to try to fill in missing pieces of the narrative,” a U.S. intelligence official told NBC News.
“The process is dynamic. As new reporting comes in, you review, reassess, and revise as appropriate," the official said.
The post is culled from reporting by NBC's Frank Thorp, Andrea Mitchell, Catherine Chomiak and wire services.