Members of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday the Times did not have the benefit of the classified evidence they had seen, which indicated a stronger link between the infamous terrorist group and Ansar al-Sharia , the Libyan militia the newspaper said was involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, raid that killed four Americans.
"Did they have differences of opinion with al-Qaida core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al-Qaida core? Definitely," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The Times published an extensive report on the deadly attack, which concluded that while al-Qaida was lurking around Libya, there was no evidence it had planned or pulled any strings in Benghazi. The newspaper said the attack was the result of a mix of hostile and self-serving militias and the volatile protests over an Internet video that supposedly defamed Islam.
"Benghazi was not infiltrated by al-Qaida, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests," the article said. "The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs."
Rogers said on "Fox News Sunday" his committee had reviewed around 400 government cables on Benghazi, which the Times did not have access to. "I think it proves that story is just not accurate."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he recognized that the Times did not have access to the secret information his committee had and relied on in-person interviews inside Libya. "It is a complex picture," Schiff said. "I don't think it's either accurate to characterize this either as a long-term preplanned core al-Qaida operation or something completely unaffiliated."
Rep. Daryl Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House committee investigating the Obama administration's actions in the Benghazi attack, reiterated his position that the incident was an al-Qaida operation based on Ansar al-Sharia's reputed ties with the terror group. "There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al-Qaida," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The Times reporter who led the investigation, David Kirkpatrick, said the only al-Qaida role discovered in the aftermath was an intercepted telephone call from a participant in the attack to a friend in another country who had links to al-Qaida. Kirkpatrick said officials briefed on the call told him the al-Qaida operative sounded surprised when told the details of the raid.
Kirkpatrick also told NBC that the term "al-Qaida" had evolved in Libya into a looser reference to various anti-Western Islamic militant groups that did not necessarily mean they were al-Qaida affiliates.