CAPITOL HILL— U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Director of National Security James Clapper, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter held classified briefings for all of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Thursday regarding the recent violent attacks on U.S. embassies and facilities in Libya, Egypt and other countries.
Top Obama administration officials headed to Capitol Hill at a time when some conservative lawmakers are calling on the administration to reevaluate its annual foreign aid to Libya, Egypt, Pakistan and other countries where there have been violent anti-American protests. The intelligence briefing came as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
Lawmakers emerging from the classified briefing said they could not comment on what they had just heard, and make comments based on information they already generally know.
California Republican Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it seems the violence in Libya that claimed the lives of four Americans, was a planned terrorist attack.
"Al-Qaida is the name that has been used, and I think that is probably what we are going to find out," he said.
Some Republican lawmakers criticized the Obama administration for changing its account of how the events unfolded at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Some Democratic lawmakers said the facts are still emerging and that the FBI is investigating the attack.
Democratic Representative Adam Smith of Washington: "They are still piecing [it all] together. They are obviously still trying to figure out who perpetrated the attack, how to capture them, how to find those people, and how to prevent future attacks -- and that is evolving," Smith said.
Before the briefing, Secretary of State Clinton said the United States faces very real challenges in the new democracies of the Middle East. But she made a case for continued strong U.S. involvement in the region.
"But as I said last week, the vast majority of the people in these countries did not throw off the tyranny of a dictator to trade it for the tyranny of a mob. And we are concerned first and foremost with our own people and facilities. But we are also concerned about the internal security in these countries," Clinton said.
Some lawmakers stressed that that leaders of countries such as Egypt should realize that American assistance is not an entitlement, and that U.S. citizens and property must be protected.
"We should expect more from leaders in the region. We should expect [Egyptian President Mohammed] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and others to stand up to people and say, 'Look, we understand that you are upset about this video, but you do not have the right to burn down an embassy. And by the way, in America, the government does not control these videos, anyone can make a YouTube video; they are in a free society," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida:
Lawmakers of both major political parties have expressed outrage that it took Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi about 24 hours to criticize a protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland said he was disappointed in Egypt's new leader, but he urged members of Congress not to cut foreign aid to Egypt.
"The thing about aid is you better watch what you are doing. We can use the aid as leverage to work with them. But the bottom line is we do not want to create another Iran. If we just walk away, and as some people say take all of our money [with us], and we lose influence in Egypt. Then, I guarantee you, Russia, China and Iran will be in there so quick," Ruppersberger said.
Nearly all members of the House and many members of the Senate are expected to return to their home states this week to campaign ahead of the general elections, so it unlikely that action will be taken on foreign aid before November 6.