State Department Removed Terror, al-Qaida References in Benghazi Talking Points

Image: State Department Removed Terror, al-Qaida References in Benghazi Talking Points Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., speaks on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012.

Friday, 10 May 2013 08:25 AM

By Lisa Barron

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The Benghazi talking points at the center of the controversy surrounding the attacks on the U.S. compound in Libya were extensively edited by State Department staff to remove references to al-Qaida and terrorism, emails between the administration officials show.

According to ABC News, there were 12 different versions of the talking points first written by the CIA and later distributed to Congress and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who appeared on five Sunday morning talk shows days after the attack, which took place on Sept. 11, 2012.

ABC News obtained White House emails showing the State Department had extensive input in the edits, which included requests to delete references to the al-Qaida affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia as well as CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months before the attack.

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That apparently contradicts what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said about the talking points last November.

“Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened,” he told reporters at a press briefing on Nov. 28, 2012.

Carney continued, “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 was changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”

In particular, reports ABC, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objected to a paragraph drafted by the CIA in earlier versions of the talking points that read, “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda 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.”

It continued, “We cannot rule out the individuals have previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”

In an email to the White House and intelligence agencies, Nuland reportedly said that information “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 deleted, ABC reported.

Although the CIA’s first drafts apparently said the attack appeared to have been “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo,” later versions went on to say, “That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda participated in the attack.”

According to ABC, the draft went on to name Ansar al-Sharia, a reference to which Nuland objected because “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”

An aide at the White House National Security Council reportedly responded, “The FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple minor suggestions.”

Those suggestions apparently were not enough for Nuland, who wrote back, “These changes don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my building’s leadership.”

On Friday, Sept. 14, according to ABC, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes entered the debate, writing in an email that the State Departments concerns needed to be addressed. That was three days after the attack and two days before Rice appeared on the Sunday shows to present the Obama administration's version of events surrounding the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

“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,” he wrote.

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After that meeting, which reportedly took place the morning of Saturday, Sept. 15, at the White House, the CIA drafted the final version of the talking points, eliminating all references to al-Qaida and the security warnings in Benghazi ahead of the attack.

Carney, the White House press secretary, told ABC that nothing contradicts his statements on the talking points because the CIA in the end wrote and signed off on all versions.

“The CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points, “ he said, adding, “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.”

Carney continued, “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.”

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