State Department Held Out for Changes to Benghazi Talking Points

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 10:11 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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Bitten by at least three major scandals, President Obama’s besieged White House on Wednesday released 100 pages of emails and notes related to the Benghazi attack that appeared to show State Department officials going out of their way to assure there would be no inference that the agency had ignored safety warnings from the CIA.

“State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised the most vociferous objections when she learned that the talking points were intended for members of Congress to “use” with the media, according to a Newsmax review of the documents.

“On that basis, I have serious concerns” with aspects of the draft, “and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation,” she penned at 7:39 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2012.

Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have charged that “several officials — up to and including President Obama” —  are complicit in a cover-up to hide the truth about last September’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans perished.

The truth about the attack — that it was orchestrated by an al-Qaida-affiliated group — would have potentially been damaging to President Obama’s re-election efforts in the final months of the 2012 campaign, according to critics.

The talking points were changed after multiple versions to remove any reference to al-Qaida and were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday morning news shows, who went on to blame the attack on a spontaneous protest that erupted after a protest in Egypt over a U.S.-made anti-Muslim video.

Documents show that the talking points were developed over a two-day period — Sept. 14 and 15, 2012 — following the attack of the Benghazi diplomatic compound and annex three days before on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Nuland insisted in her written comments at the time: “in same vein, why do we want (Capitol) Hill to be fingering Ansar al-Sharia (al-Qaida linked group) when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results.”

She went on to say that the “penultimate point could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat the State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either?”

The White House had until now declined to make the paper trail public but had let congressional investigators review the documents without making copies.

The documents show the chain of comments from the State Department, White House, FBI, Department of Justice, National Security Agency and other relevant government agencies as the Central Intelligence Agency attempted to prepare “talking points” for distribution to the House Intelligence Committee, which planned to use them for press briefings.

One of the reviewers, Shawn S. Turner noted “I’ve been very careful not to say we issued a warning,” he wrote. “On 10 Sept. we notified embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the embassy.”

At 8:40 p.m. on Sept. 14 White House spokesman Tommy Vietor noted that the talking points were needed to “quell concerns” and that “There is massive disinformation out there, in particular with Congress,” he said at the time.

“They all think it was premeditated based on inaccurate assumptions or briefings. So I think this is in response to not only a tasking from the House Intel committee but also NSC guidance that we need to brief members/press and correct the record,” he said.

The CIA Office of Public Affairs responded to Nuland’s concerns at 8:59 p.m. saying that “the FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple of minor suggestions.”

At 9:23 Nuland again pressed for more changes. “These don’t resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” she said. “They are consulting with NSS.”

In an internal draft update prepared for then CIA Director David Petraeus at 9:52 p.m. officials noted the difficulty in coordinating the talking points among the various agencies, but particularly the State Department.

“Sir — we’ve tried to work the draft talking points for HPSCI (House Intelligence Committee) through the coordination process but have run into major problems,” the document stated. “The White House cleared quickly, but state has major concerns. The bureau cleared with a few comments but asked that Justice which would handle any criminal prosecution be brought in. It is evident that will not happen tonight, and Ben Rhodes has asked that this issue be reviewed tomorrow morning at the deputies’ meeting.”

By the morning of Sept. 15, the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis appeared to lament the changes that had been made the night before.

“They are fine with me. But pretty sure HPSCI won’t like them,” an email read. The comment was followed by a smiley face.

In an internal transmittal memo, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was advised that the initial draft of the talking points “apparently seemed unsuitable . . . because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy.”

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