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Panetta tells of monitoring situation in Benghazi

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that he and other top military commanders “felt very strongly” that deploying U.S. forces to defend against the fatal attack last month on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was too risky because they did not have a clear picture of what was happening on the ground.

“There’s a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on here,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that “the basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s taking place.”

As a result, Panetta said, he and two other top commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.” The commanders are Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Carter F. Ham of Africa Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Africa, including Libya.

Panetta was at the White House for a regular meeting on the afternoon of Sept. 11 as the first reports of the attack unfolded, a U.S. official said.

By that evening Panetta had consulted with Dempsey and Ham and had ordered a number of U.S. military forces in the region to move closer to Libya.

Defense officials say they did not receive a request for military support from the State Department as the attack unfolded.

—Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times

Early worries that Hurricane Sandy could be a ‘perfect storm’

Hurricane Sandy, which Thursday was barreling through the Bahamas as a Category 2 storm, may be taking aim at the northeastern part of the United States and could make landfall along the Atlantic coast in the early part of next week. If so, forecasters say, the storm could become, to use a technical term from meteorology, a whopper.

“It really could be an extremely significant, historic storm,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami, explaining that conditions are similar to those that created the famous “perfect storm” of 1991.

Hurricane prediction is, of course, an iffy business, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, who noted that the storm is still days away from reaching the East Coast and that it could weaken dramatically, or even shift course and race off into the Atlantic.

The chain of events that would make Sandy develop into a grave threat to the coast involves a storm system known as a mid-latitude trough that is currently moving across the country from the west.

If it meets up with Sandy, as many computer models predict, the storm over land could draw Sandy in.

“Now you’ve got this giant storm complex with a lot of energy,” Feltgen said.

The combined systems could produce high winds, rain and storm surge that would cause extensive damage.

New York was beginning to prepare for trouble. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters that the city activated its coastal storm plan Thursday morning, and that it had already opened its Office of Emergency Management situation room.

Such storm combinations have happened before: One that occurred 21 years ago developed into what is now known as the “perfect storm” off the coast of New England.

That disaster was memorialized in a 1997 novel and a 2000 movie by the same name.

—John Schwartz, The New York Times

Apple profit rises 24 percent

In the last five weeks, Apple has revamped its entire product lineup with new iPods, iPhones, and computers. But on Thursday it said those products would be more expensive to make, nibbling into its ample profits.

That forecast for the holiday quarter was the main blemish on an otherwise solid financial report. Apple said its fiscal fourth-quarter profit jumped 24 percent, largely because of a surge in sales of the iPhone, a product that now accounts for nearly half of the company’s sales.

The quarter that ended Sept. 29 was the first to reflect sales of the iPhone 5, which was introduced Sept. 21. Apple has struggled to deliver enough of the devices to meet customer demand, making them tough to find in many retail stores.

The company’s shares have fallen 9 percent since the product hit the market, in part because of investor concerns about short supply.

In a conference call with analysts, Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said demand for the new iPhone was “extremely robust” and that the company had a significant number of back-orders for it. He said production had picked up substantially since earlier this month.

The profit report was slightly below analysts’ expectations, and Apple’s stock was largely unchanged in after-hours trading.

It fell 1.2 percent to $609.54 in regular trading.

Underscoring how drastically Apple’s business has been transformed by mobile products, revenue from the iPhone rose 56 percent to $17.13 billion, making up 48 percent of the company’s total revenue. It sold 26.9 million iPhones, 58 percent more than a year earlier.

Apple said its net income was $8.22 billion, or $8.67 a share, compared with $6.62 billion, or $7.05 a share, a year ago. Revenue for the period rose 27 percent to $35.97 billion, and revenue for the full fiscal year was $156.5 billion.

To put that in perspective, Apple’s revenue for the year exceeded that of Microsoft, Google and Facebook combined.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected Apple to report earnings of $8.75 a share and revenue of $35.8 billion.

The results were well ahead of Apple’s own forecast of $7.65 a share in earnings and $34 billion in revenue for the period.

—Nick Wingfield, The New York Times