Nightly News   |  September 20, 2012

Benghazi attack likely pre-planned, officials say

The White House has confirmed that the terror attack that killed four Americans at the Libya consulate was orchestrated by al-Qaida sympathizers, but questions remain about when it was planned. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> good evening, it won't bring back the u.s. ambassador or the three other americans who were murdered, including two former navy s.e.a.l.s, but tonight, after the night they died, the storming at the u.s. consulate was labelled an act of terrorist, that was not the initial story. some have given conflicting versions of who happened there that night. we begin with what it does mean. our chief correspondent, andrea mitchell , good evening.

>>> good evening, tonight, the white house confirmed the attack was an act of terror, officials say by al qaeda members. questions remain why it was planned and why initial reports were wrong. under heavy guard, secretary of state hillary clinton , arriving in libya today to attend a memorial service for the americans killed there. now that the fbi is on scene, the u.s. acknowledged reports of a protest gone wild were wrong. jay carney said i think that what happened in benghazi was a terrorist attack . president obama was asked at that at a forum today.

>> what we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm u.s. interests.

>> reporter: intelligence officials now believe it could have been a planned attack all along, looking like a protest. today, officials briefed top members of congress.

>> i think the story now is that there was not a demonstration. this was a pre-planned attack.

>> reporter: but after the killings, the administration blamed it on protests sparked by the anti-islamist video.

>> what happened in benghazi was a spontaneous reaction to what had happened hours before in cairo.

>> reporter: franchiustrated, john mccain lashed out at officials for not pointing to al qaeda members.

>> i was shocked they thought it was a spontaneous demonstration. it shows the level of their knowledge about fundamental aspects of terrorist attacks and militant operations.

>> reporter: he also said he was worried about ambassador chris steven's safety, especially when he was with him on election night in libya. hillary clinton clinton is announcing she will have a review board to investigate what happened, as she is required to by law.

>>> and another funeral in california, a funeral for tyrone woods , another member assigned in benghazi . witnesses say it could have been a planned attack, or no protests at all. they're now investigating all possibilities, including why the initial accounts were wrong.

>>> andrea mitchell starting us off