WASHINGTON - Within hours of last month's attacks on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama's administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al-Qaida were involved, three government sources said.

Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top US officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organized militant groups.

It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to US policymakers had "evolved" into an acknowledgement that the attacks were "deliberate and organized" and "carried out by extremists."

The existence of the early reports appears to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration's public messaging about the attack as it seeks to fend off Republican charges that the White House failed to prevent a terrorist strike that left a US ambassador and three others dead.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger