Intel agencies warned U.S. Embassy in Egypt of possible violence

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 17, 2012 7:19pm EDT

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. intelligence cable warned the American Embassy in Cairo of possible violence in response to Arabic-language broadcasts of clips from an anti-Muslim film, U.S. government sources said on Monday.

The cable, dispatched from Washington on September 10, the day before protests erupted, advised the embassy the broadcasts could provoke violence. It did not direct specific measures to upgrade security, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, under standard diplomatic procedures, Egyptian government officials and security forces were notified of U.S. concerns, since host governments are responsible for ensuring the security of foreign diplomatic missions on their soil, the sources said.

Copies of the cable were not sent to other U.S. outposts in the region, including the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where violence took the life of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The ties between the Benghazi violence and the crude anti-Muslim film are still unclear.

The sources said the cable, which is still classified, was sparked by the broadcast on Saturday, September 8 by al-Nas, an Egyptian satellite TV network, of what its presenters described as extracts from an English-language film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad.

That broadcast said the clips from the American film had been uploaded on the YouTube website by "migrant Coptics," a reference to exiled members of a Christian sect with a large minority presence among Egypt's Muslim majority.

The film, called "Innocence of Muslims," portrayed Mohammed as a womanizer, thug and child molester.

In the warning cable, intelligence officials in Washington advised the embassy in Cairo the film clips had been translated into Arabic and were being disseminated via social media.

CLIPS WENT VIRAL

On Tuesday morning, before the protests began, the embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page which, according to a senior U.S. official, condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," a reference to the film.

It is not known if that posting was prompted by the U.S. intelligence warning. The statement was later pulled from the Internet because it was not coordinated with the State Department in Washington, the official said.

While the TV broadcast of the clips, on a talk show hosted by an Islamist preacher, did not get much attention, once the material was posted on social media, including YouTube, it went viral. Through the cable, the U.S. Embassy was "made aware this is happening," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Another source said that because the broadcast and concerns about possible violence were specific to Egypt, the warning message was not sent to other U.S. Middle Eastern outposts.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said staff were "well aware" that the video was being used to whip up strong feelings and could lead to demonstrations, and that most of the Cairo embassy staff had been instructed to stay home that day even before the protests began.

"So when we had the difficulties, there was actually minimal staff in the building because we were already alerted and we had alerted the Egyptians as well," she told a news briefing.

Not long after violent protests broke out on Tuesday, September 11 at the embassy in Cairo, violence also broke out in Benghazi. In ensuing days, anti-Western protests, many of them violent, took place in Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority nations.

President Barack Obama's administration has strongly denied it had advance warning about the Libya attack and has said it is still trying to figure out how it occurred and who carried it out.

Eyewitnesses and some U.S. officials have said the Benghazi attack appeared to be well-organized, and militants displaying banners of a group called Ansar al Sharia appeared to have been deeply involved in the violence.

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Todd Eastham)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (18)
caconsevative wrote:
What this acknowledges is that the Obama administration knowingly lied to the American public. They said this was ‘spontaneous’. They knew it wasn’t and failed to take appropriate measures. Now 4 people are dead and the Middle East is on fire again. I wonder if the alphabet channels will even carry the story?

Sep 18, 2012 3:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
AmericanJoe wrote:
That not what Susan Rice said. People in the Obama administration would never lie to the American public to whom they serve. 4 more years of Obama.

Sep 18, 2012 3:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
RegisteredRep wrote:
So now it’s official. The current administration has lied to the American People. Everyone who is surprised, raise your hand. I count,,,,none. Looks like this Administration has even less believability than the Previous Bush Administration…and that’s saying something. Well done Mr. President! I see you are continuing in the footsteps of Illinois Governors for the past two decades.

Sep 18, 2012 3:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.