Keep in mind, this is from ABC – hardly some tinfoil-hat political conspiracy fanbois:
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.
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.”
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.
This afternoon’s White House press briefing was extraordinary. Spokesman Jay Carney stood by his now thoroughly discredited claim that the White House made just one “stylistic” edit to the Benghazi talking points. He invoked the name of Mitt Romney twice, and the “previous administration” once, the latter in connection with the IRS’ apology to conservative groups for targeting them during an election year. For the most part, Carney danced around the press corps despite the fact that many in the room were unhappy to have been left out of the afternoon’s off-the-record or “deep background” meeting with select but as yet unnamed members of the media. Carney was more prepared for the sparring match than his opposites were.
Who was in that press meeting? What was its purpose? That’s for Jay Carney and friends to know, and for you not to find out.
The subject of the Cairo warning did come up. Carney brought it up himself.
Carney should have been asked why, after the CIA inserted that warning into the talking points at 4:42 PM on Friday, September 14, it survived several iterations before being removed. He should have been asked who removed it, and why.
Here is the warning’s first appearance. It comes in the third version of the talking points.
But after the White House meeting on the morning of September 15, it was marked out.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
The Cairo attack was pre-planned and trumpeted the day prior. The movie did play a role, but it was mostly a cameo: The Cairo jihadists used it to stir up anger and bring out the crowd. Removing even the CIA’s vague rendering of the the warning fundamentally, not stylistically, altered that talking point by strengthening the appearance that the attack began with a spontaneous protest, and minimizing the evidence that the CIA had in hand that it may have been part of a broader jihadist attack on the United States aimed at freeing jihadists in US custody.
In this post, I’ve just dealt with the talking points and the Cairo warning. Those involved in the non-response to the attack and its aftermath had in hand even stronger evidence that the movie played no role, and there was no protest. They had video from the field, and they had messages from US personnel in the field. Greg Hicks directly told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there had been no protest and that the attack was just that, an attack. He also testified that the movie was a “non-event” in Libya.