1.) ABC News’ “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference,”
2.) The Weekly Standard’s “The Benghazi Talking Points: And how they were changed to obscure the truth,” and
3.) The full texts of the 12 Talking Points.
[ For more early facts on the Benghazi Cover-Up, please see my previous posts at: https://whenisapartynotaparty.wordpress.com/category/benghazi-cover-up/ ]
1.) Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference
When it became clear last fall that the CIA’s now discredited Benghazi talking points were flawed, the White House said repeatedly the documents were put together almost entirely by the intelligence community, but White House documents reviewed by Congress suggest a different story.
ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.
White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.
That would appear to directly contradict what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said about the talking points in November.
“Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened,” Carney told reporters at the White House press briefing on November 28, 2012. “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
Summaries of White House and State Department emails — some of which were first published by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard — show that the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland raised specific objections to this paragraph drafted by the CIA in its earlier versions of the talking points:
“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
In an email to officials at the White House and the intelligence agencies, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland took issue with including that information because it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned …”
The paragraph was entirely deleted.
Like the final version used by Ambassador Rice on the Sunday shows, the CIA’s first drafts said the attack appeared to have been “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” but the CIA version went on to say, “That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.” The draft went on to specifically name the al Qaeda-affiliated group named Ansar al-Sharia.
Once again, Nuland objected to naming the terrorist groups because “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
In response, an NSC staffer coordinating the review of the talking points wrote back to Nuland, “The FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple minor suggestions.”
After the talking points were edited slightly to address Nuland’s concerns, she responded that changes did not go far enough.
“These changes don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my buildings leadership,” Nuland wrote.
In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. — three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department’s concerns needed to be addressed.
“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
After that meeting, which took place Saturday morning at the White House, the CIA drafted the final version of the talking points – deleting all references to al Qaeda and to the security warnings in Benghazi prior to the attack.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said none of this contradicts what he said about the talking points because ultimately all versions were actually written and signed-off by the CIA.
“The CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points,” Carney said. “The fact that there are inputs is always the case in a process like this, but the only edits made by anyone here at the White House were stylistic and nonsubstantive. They corrected the description of the building or the facility in Benghazi from consulate to diplomatic facility and the like. And ultimately, this all has been discussed and reviewed and provided in enormous levels of detail by the administration to Congressional investigators, and the attempt to politicize the talking points, again, is part of an effort to, you know, chase after what isn’t the substance here.”
UPDATE: A source familiar with the White House emails on the Benghazi talking point revisions say that State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland was raising two concerns about the CIA’s first version of talking points, which were going to be sent to Congress: 1) The talking points went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her state department briefings; and, 2) she believed the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department’s expense by suggesting CIA warnings about the security situation were ignored.
In one email, Nuland asked, why are we suggest Congress “start making assertions to the media [about the al Qaeda connection] that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation?”
One other point: The significant edits – deleting references to al Qaeda and the CIA’s warnings – came after a White House meeting on the Saturday before Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday shows. Nuland, a 30-year foreign service veteran who has served under Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, was not at that meeting and played no direct role in preparing Rice for her interviews.
2.) The Benghazi Talking Points
And how they were changed to obscure the truth
Even as the White House strove last week to move beyond questions about the Benghazi attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2012, fresh evidence emerged that senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults. The Weekly Standard has obtained a timeline briefed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence detailing the heavy substantive revisions made to the CIA’s talking points, just six weeks before the 2012 presidential election, and additional information about why the changes were made and by whom.
As intelligence officials pieced together the puzzle of events unfolding in Libya, they concluded even before the assaults had ended that al Qaeda-linked terrorists were involved. Senior administration officials, however, sought to obscure the emerging picture and downplay the significance of attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The frantic process that produced the changes to the talking points took place over a 24-hour period just one day before Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made her now-famous appearances on the Sunday television talk shows. The discussions involved senior officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the White House.
The exchange of emails is laid out in a 43-page report from the chairmen of five committees in the House of Representatives. Although the investigation was conducted by Republicans, leading some reporters and commentators to dismiss it, the report quotes directly from emails between top administration and intelligence officials, and it includes footnotes indicating the times the messages were sent. In some cases, the report did not provide the names of the senders, but The Weekly Standard has confirmed the identities of the authors of two critical emails—one indicating the main reason for the changes and the other announcing that the talking points would receive their final substantive rewrite at a meeting of top administration officials on Saturday, September 15.
The White House provided the emails to members of the House and Senate intelligence committees for a limited time and with the stipulation that the documents were available for review only and would not be turned over to the committees. The White House and committee leadership agreed to that arrangement as part of a deal that would keep Republican senators from blocking the confirmation of John Brennan, the president’s choice to run the CIA. If the House report provides an accurate and complete depiction of the emails, it is clear that senior administration officials engaged in a wholesale rewriting of intelligence assessments about Benghazi in order to mislead the public. The Weekly Standard sought comment from officials at the White House, the State Department, and the CIA, but received none by press time. Within hours of the initial attack on the U.S. facility, the State Department Operations Center sent out two alerts. The first, at 4:05 p.m. (all times are Eastern Daylight Time), indicated that the compound was under attack; the second, at 6:08 p.m., indicated that Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Libya, had claimed credit for the attack. According to the House report, these alerts were circulated widely inside the government, including at the highest levels. The fighting in Benghazi continued for another several hours, so top Obama administration officials were told even as the fighting was taking place that U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives were likely being attacked by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. A cable sent the following day, September 12, by the CIA station chief in Libya, reported that eyewitnesses confirmed the participation of Islamic militants and made clear that U.S. facilities in Benghazi had come under terrorist attack. It was this fact, along with several others, that top Obama officials would work so hard to obscure.
After a briefing on Capitol Hill by CIA director David Petraeus, Democrat Dutch Ruppersburger, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, asked the intelligence community for unclassified guidance on what members of Congress could say in their public comments on the attacks. The CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis prepared the first draft of a response to the congressman, which was distributed internally for comment at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, September 14 (Version 1 at right). This initial CIA draft included the assertion that the U.S. government “know[s] that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.” That draft also noted that press reports “linked the attack to Ansar al Sharia. The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved.” Ansar al Sharia, the CIA draft continued, aims to spread sharia law in Libya and “emphasizes the need for jihad.” The agency draft also raised the prospect that the facilities had been the subject of jihadist surveillance and offered a reminder that in the previous six months there had been “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy.”
After the internal distribution, CIA officials amended that draft to include more information about the jihadist threat in both Egypt and Libya. “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy,” the agency had added by late afternoon. And: “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qaeda in Benghazi and Libya.” But elsewhere, CIA officials pulled back. The reference to “Islamic extremists” no longer specified “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda,” and the initial reference to “attacks” in Benghazi was changed to “demonstrations.”
The talking points were first distributed to officials in the interagency vetting process at 6:52 p.m. on Friday. Less than an hour later, at 7:39 p.m., an individual identified in the House report only as a “senior State Department official” responded to raise “serious concerns” about the draft. That official, whom The Weekly Standard has confirmed was State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings.”
In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up email at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained and that her superiors—she did not say which ones—were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.
There is little information about what happened at that meeting of the Deputies Committee. But according to two officials with knowledge of the process, Mike Morrell, deputy director of the CIA, made broad changes to the draft afterwards. Morrell cut all or parts of four paragraphs of the six-paragraph talking points—148 of its 248 words (see Version 2 above). Gone were the reference to “Islamic extremists,” the reminders of agency warnings about al Qaeda in Libya, the reference to “jihadists” in Cairo, the mention of possible surveillance of the facility in Benghazi, and the report of five previous attacks on foreign interests.
What remained—and would be included in the final version of the talking points—was mostly boilerplate about ongoing investigations and working with the Libyan government, together with bland language suggesting that the “violent demonstrations”—no longer “attacks”—were spontaneous responses to protests in Egypt and may have included generic “extremists” (see Version 3 above).
If the story of what happened in Benghazi was dramatically stripped down from the first draft of the CIA’s talking points to the version that emerged after the Deputies Committee meeting, the narrative would soon be built up again. In ensuing days, administration officials emphasized a “demonstration” in front of the U.S. facility in Benghazi and claimed that the demonstrators were provoked by a YouTube video. The CIA had softened “attack” to “demonstration.” But as soon became clear, there had been no demonstration in Benghazi.
More troubling was the YouTube video. Rice would spend much time on the Sunday talk shows pointing to this video as the trigger of the chaos in Benghazi. “What sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the Internet. It was a reaction to a video that had nothing to do with the United States.” There is no mention of any “video” in any of the many drafts of the talking points.
Still, top Obama officials would point to the video to explain Benghazi. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even denounced the video in a sort of diplomatic public service announcement in Pakistan. In a speech at the United Nations on September 25, the president mentioned the video several times in connection with Benghazi.
On September 17, the day after Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, Nuland defended Rice’s performance during the daily briefing at the State Department. “What I will say, though, is that Ambassador Rice, in her comments on every network over the weekend, was very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened is. And this was not just her assessment, it was also an assessment you’ve heard in comments coming from the intelligence community, in comments coming from the White House.”
It was a preview of the administration’s defense of its claims on Benghazi. After pushing the intelligence community to revise its talking points to fit the administration’s preferred narrative, administration officials would point fingers at the intelligence community when parts of that narrative were shown to be misleading or simply untrue.
And at times, members of the intelligence community appeared eager to help. On September 28, a statement from ODNI seemed designed to quiet the growing furor over the administration’s explanations of Benghazi. “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”
The statement continued: “As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaeda.”
The statement strongly implies that the information about al Qaeda-linked terrorists was new, a revision of the initial assessment. But it wasn’t. Indeed, the original assessment stated, without qualification, “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.”
The statement from the ODNI came not from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, but from his spokesman, Shawn Turner. When the statement was released, current and former intelligence officials told The Weekly Standard that they found the statement itself odd and the fact that it didn’t come from Clapper stranger still. Clapper was traveling when he was first shown a draft of the statement to go out under his name. It is not an accident that it didn’t.
The revelations about exactly how the talking points were written, revised, and then embellished come amid renewed scrutiny of the administration’s handling of Benghazi. Fox News spoke to a Special Ops soldier last week who raised new questions about what happened during the attack, and the State Department’s inspector general acknowledged that the office would be investigating the production of the Administrative Review Board report on the attacks because of concerns that investigators did not speak to a broad spectrum of individuals with knowledge of the attack and its aftermath. On May 8, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee will hold another hearing on the matter. And Republicans in Congress have asked the administration to release all of the emails, something that would further clarify how the changes came about.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
3.) The full texts of the 12 Talking Points:
Please also see:
Benghazi “Definitive Report” (10 September 2013)
Benghazi Cover-up 9.17.2012: The Theory of What Really Went Down (16 October 2012)