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Sources: 15 days after Benghazi attack, FBI still investigating from afar

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    Benghazi security questions

Benghazi security questions 05:32

Story highlights

  • CNN's Townsend: FBI agents are in Tripoli, waiting for approval to go to Benghazi
  • "Bureaucratic infighting" has complicated the investigation, she says
  • The crime scene in Benghazi has not been secured, Townsend says
  • Source: "If we get there now, it's not clear it will be of any use to us"

More than two weeks after four Americans -- including the U.S. ambassador to Libya -- were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

"They've gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they've never gotten to Benghazi," CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

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Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.

"In fairness to the secretary, it may be that she wanted to be coy about where they were in Libya for security concerns. That's understandable. But the fact is, it's not clear they've been in Libya for very long," Townsend said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360°."

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    "They had difficulty, and we understand there was some bureaucratic infighting between the FBI and Justice Department on the one hand, and the State Department on the other, and so it took them longer than they would have liked to get into country. They've now gotten there. But they still are unable to get permission to go to Benghazi."

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    FBI agents have made a request through the U.S. State Department for the crime scene to be secured, Townsend said, but that has not happened.

    "The senior law enforcement official I spoke to said, 'If we get there now, it's not clear that it will be of any use to us,'" Townsend said.

    The FBI team has conducted interviews of State Department and U.S. government personnel who were in Libya at the time of the attack, Townsend said, but the FBI's request to directly question individuals who Libyan authorities have in custody was denied.

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    Libyan officials have said they have brought in dozens of people for questioning since the September 11 attack, which officials said occurred amid a large protest about a U.S.-made film that mocked the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

    U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was one of four Americans slain in the assault, which has fueled increased global scrutiny of the North African nation and increased political sparring in the United States over the investigation into who was behind it.

    Speaking to reporters last Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the assault was a "terrorist attack."

    At the United Nations Wednesday, Clinton referenced the attack in remarks about violent extremism.

    "Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions," she said. "And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi."

    On Wednesday, Townsend said a law enforcement source told her investigators from day one "have known clearly that this was a terrorist attack."

    U.S. post in Benghazi had less than standard security before attack

    But officials have offered conflicting assessments of the attack, with initial accounts alleging that protesters angry about the film fueled the violence.

    That approach has drawn sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers.

    On Sunday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told CNN there was no proof indicating the attack was related to protests over an anti-Islam video.

    Republican lawmakers echoed that argument on "AC 360" Wednesday.

    "I do not understand the continuance of the president to look the other way and not admit the fact that this was obviously a terrorist attack," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia. "And I cannot believe that the FBI is not on the ground yet, and there's not enough cooperation to get there."

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        Attacks on U.S. missions

      • A testy exchange erupted between Sen. John McCain and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey during the latter's testimony about September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
      • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on Republican congressional critics of her department's handling of the deadly September terrorist attack in Libya.
      • Children in Benghazi hold up placards reading "No to terrorism" (R) and "yes for stability and security" on January 15.

        Bilal Bettamer wants to save Benghazi from those he calls "extremely dangerous people." But his campaign against the criminal and extremist groups that plague the city has put his life at risk.
      • Protesters near the US Embassy in Cairo.

        Was the attack on the Libyan U.S. Consulate the result of a mob gone awry, a planned terror attack or a combination of the two?
      • Image #: 19358881    Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, smiles at his home in Tripoli June 28, 2012. Stevens and three embassy staff were killed late on September 11, 2012, as they rushed away from a consulate building in Benghazi, stormed by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for a film that they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad. Stevens was trying to leave the consulate building for a safer location as part of an evacuation when gunmen launched an intense attack, apparently forcing security personnel to withdraw. Picture taken June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST OBITUARY)       REUTERS /ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI /LANDOV

        Three days before the deadly attack in Benghazi, a local security official says he warned U.S. diplomats about deteriorating security.
      • For the latest news on developments in the Middle East and North Africa in Arabic.