* "Can't freak out on everything broadcast"
* Congressional inquiries seen likely
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Sept 13 Although U.S. authorities
believe anti-American violence that erupted on Tuesday in Libya
and Egypt was triggered by an Arabic talk-show broadcast three
days earlier, U.S. officials said high-alert warnings were not
issued to American outposts in the region about the possibility
An Egyptian TV network, al-Nas, broadcast on Saturday what
its presenters described as extracts from an English-language
film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, which it said 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 clips broadcast on al-Nas were taken from a short film
called "Innocence of Muslims," which portrays the Prophet,
played by what appears to be a young American actor, as a
womanizer, thug and child molester.
While U.S. government officials were aware of the film's
inflammatory content, three officials said the broadcasts did
not prompt strong warnings from intelligence agencies or the
State Department of possible threats to U.S. diplomatic missions
in the Islamic world.
Four U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador, were killed
in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on
Tuesday that U.S. officials said may have been planned by one or
more militant factions.
One official, who like the others spoke on condition of
anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said at least one
specific warning about possible unrest in the region was
circulated within the government, but was not so alarming as to
lead to a major upgrade in emergency security precautions.
The lack of major warnings appears to illustrate how, in
today's world of globalized social media, threats to U.S.
interests can gather strength rapidly and seem to appear out of
nowhere. The events also underline the role of the Middle East's
more freewheeling media, loosened from state restrictions after
the fall of longtime dictators.
"The number of potentially inflammatory things that are said
or broadcast every week (is so large) ... that warning about all
of them would be useless," said Paul Pillar, former top U.S.
intelligence analyst for the Middle East and South Asia. It was
"impossible to predict" the kind of violent reaction that
occurred in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.
One U.S. official said, "You can't freak out on everything
That official and others said the airwaves and Internet were
filled with hateful material and U.S. authorities could be
"crying wolf" if they issued a warning every time an
anti-Islamic broadside was aired or posted online.
A senior congressional official said the question of what
the United States knew about pre-Sept. 11, 2012, threats and
what it did about them would likely be examined in legislative
in q uiries into the Libyan and Egyptian violence.
Another aide indicated it would be difficult to fault U.S.
agencies on the issue.
ATTORNEY GENERAL TO MANAGE PROBE
U.S. facilities in the Middle East were already on
heightened alert earlier this week due to the anniversary of the
Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
The FBI has opened an investigation into the killings in
Benghazi. U.S. officials said Attorney General Eric Holder was
cutting short a foreign trip and would return to Washington on
Friday to manage the Libya investigation.
It is not clear that anyone involved in making the
anti-Islam film faces criminal investigation in the United
"Making a bad movie is not a crime," one official said,
referring to the film's low production values.
Al-Nas is an Egyptian Islamic satellite channel whose
programming ranges from Islamic scholars delivering religious
edicts to shows about cooking and medicine.
Before Egypt's 2011 revolution, authorities periodically
suspended privately owned religious satellite channels such as
al-Nas, many of which follow conservative Salafi Islam, for
allegedly violating broadcasting licenses by promoting religious
or sectarian hatred and providing dubious medical advice.
U.S. officials believe that al-Nas' Saturday broadcast of a
talk show hosted by Sheikh Khalid Abdallah was the spark that
triggered violence and protests against U.S. missions in a
half-dozen Arab cities.
Egyptian political scientist Omar Ashour said Abdallah was a
controversial Islamist host of a TV show that specialized in
criticizing liberals, often inviting firebrand commentators to
mock secular Egyptians. His show tends to be popular with Salafi
Muslims, but not with followers of the more mainstream Muslim
Brotherhood that dominates Egypt's government.
A European security official said intelligence reporting
indicated the inflammatory clips from the American film run on
the talk show had been translated and dubbed into Arabic by
Copts, possibly members of the sect living in the United States.
In their commentary on the film clips, the hosts of al-Nas'
program alleged the material had been uploaded by "migrant
Coptics," according to Flashpoint Global Partners, a firm that
monitors militant websites for government and private clients.
According to Flashpoint's translation, the al-Nas presenters
at one point in their introduction to the anti-Mohammad film,
specifically mentioned "radical pastor Terry Jones," the Florida
preacher who staged a number of anti-Islamic events over the
past year. Jones has confirmed he was involved in promoting the