Top Intelligence Official On Libya: It’s ‘Very Hard To Predict An Exact Attack’

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pushed back on Tuesday against critiques of the intelligence community in the aftermath of September’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Speaking to a conference of intelligence professionals and contractors at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, Clapper said, “If people don’t behave, emit a behavior or talk or something else ahead of time to be detected, it’s going to be very hard to predict an exact attack and come up with an exact attack.”

The Obama administration has been criticized in the weeks following the attacks for not providing enough security at the consulate and being unable to foresee the assault. In rebutting those claims, Clapper read at length from a recent article by former intelligence analyst Paul Pillar, noting the difficulties inherent in intelligence gathering and prediction and the immediate demand for clear answers. Pillar wrote:

The seemingly endless public rehashing of the attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans is not taking a form that serves any useful purpose. That would be true even without the political slant that was stemmed from efforts to turn some of the recriminations into a campaign issue. The loss of the four public servants was a tragedy. The rehashing does not alleviate that tragedy.

Watch Clapper speak here:

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Pillar’s views are shared by other former intelligence practitioners. In an article at The Atlantic, Aki Peritz, a CIA analyst during the Bush administration, said that “[b]laming the president for not having instantaneous and perfect information is a ridiculous political stunt.” Both Pillar and Pertiz stress the hedging against certainty that intelligence analysts place into their work and that information is never perfect nor immediate in the aftermath of an incident.


Clapper’s remarks came ahead of a Wednesday hearing by the House Government and Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), into the administration’s actions leading up to the attack. Democratic members of the committee have already said that they believe the hearings to be partisan in nature.