While protests over a YouTube video that offended many Muslims grew violent on the day of the 9/11 anniversary outside U.S. embassies in Egypt and Tunisia, the attack in Libya began well after nightfall, at 9:40 p.m. local time, which is an unusual hour to be staging a political demonstration.
What really happened, according to the new Senate investigative report, is that terrorists from the five distinct extremist organizations beholden to al Qaeda -- the one founded by Osama bin Laden -- converged in "short order" on the lightly guarded U.S. outpost, penetrated it and set buildings on fire with diesel they found there.
They had organized themselves quickly and efficiently, and they succeeded in overrunning America's diplomatic outpost in the city -- precisely the kind of attack that al Qaeda-core has perfected and is known to teach its allies how to execute.
Last October, the CBS News program "60 Minutes" aired a controverial report in which it said "al Qaeda" was involved, without delineating who they meant. Critics pounced when correspondent Lara Logan told viewers, "Contrary to the White House's public statements, which were still being made a full week later, it's now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaeda in a well-planned assault."
The bipartisan Senate report this week said it was "not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic."
It was also, of course, highly successful.
The Obama administration, however, has avoided disclosing specifics on the perpetrators.
Responding to a New York Times story last month that claimed al Qaeda was not behind the worst diplomatic loss the U.S. had suffered in decades, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that "extremists were involved," but without specifying who they were.
"At this point, we have no indications that core-al Qaeda, which I think is what most people are referring to when they talk about, quote, al Qaeda, directed or planned what happened in Benghazi," Harf said on Dec. 30, 2013. "These folks don't carry ID cards. They don't come out and wear a t-shirt that says, 'I belong to al Qaeda,' right? We know some of them may have taken inspiration from al Qaeda ideology, certainly."
Harf would know. She is a seasoned former career CIA terrorism analyst and spokeswoman for the spy agency.
The Senate report did not contradict Harf, but was much more specific.
While a Zawahiri message was released by core-al Qaeda on Sept. 10, 2012 as a eulogy to his Libyan No. 3 lieutenant killed by a CIA drone, Abu Yahya al-Libi, there is no evidence the video or any other direction to attack Stevens' compound in Benghazi came from the leadership in Pakistan or anywhere else.
But they didn't need to. Public statements by bin Laden and Zawahiri showed that al Qaeda's plan for the group bin Laden named "The Base," or "Foundation" 25 years ago was that they would facilitate the spread of violent jihad to be carried out by others.
AQAP is considered by the U.S. to be more lethal than the decimated core-al Qaeda in Pakistan. From Yemen it has launched four unsuccessful airborne attacks against the U.S. homeland using bombs hidden in underwear and printer cartridges aboard planes. The group is led by Nasir al-Wahishi.
"Al-Wahishi has direct ties to al Qaeda and its senior leadership, having been a secretary to Osama Bin Laden (deceased), to whom he has sworn allegiance," according to the UN's designation.