- Petraeus testified that he always knew the attack was linked to al-Qaeda
- Snuck into the Capitol in secret and out of media’s view
- Scroll down for a look at the path talking points take from inception
Former CIA Director David Petraeus has told Congress that the CIA believed almost immediately that al-Qaeda-linked terrorists were behind the September 11th attacks in Benghazi, according to a leading Republican congressman.
Representative Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence Committee that Petraeus briefed, said that the former general left a ‘different impression’ today than he had when he testified on Capitol Hill three days after the attack.
Now, King said, Petraeus insisted that the ‘original talking points prepared by the CIA were different than the final ones put out’ and used by Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Sunday talk shows to say – incorrectly – that the attack was sparked by anger over an anti-Islam video made in California.
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Petraeus, pictured here in 2010, testified Friday morning behind closed doors not seen by the media. Mistress Paula Broadwell was barely mentioned
‘The original talking points were much more specific about al-Qaeda involvement and yet the final ones just said “indications of extremists” even though it was clearly evident to the CIA that there was al-Qaeda involvement,’ King said.
The former CIA director was giving classified testimony and was accompanied by a CIA analyst. King said he did not speak under oath.
Petraeus arrived early Friday for closed hearings on Capitol Hill as lawmakers seek details from the retired general about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
King said that there was only brief mention by Petraeus of his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, which triggered his shock resignation last Friday. ‘He was asked at the start did that have any impact on his testimony, he said no…10 seconds into it, that was off to the side.’
The New York congressman said that Petraeus had explained that the talking points ultimately used by Rice had been altered by inputs by a number of other government agencies after the CIA had made its assessment.
‘He said that it goes though a long process, an interagency process and when they came back it was taken out.’
The House Intelligence Committee, which was hearing from Petraeus before he briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee, met in a secure room several floors below the main area of the Capitol Visitors Centre, where tourists gather when they are visiting Congress.
Republicans and some Democrats have demanded an explanation of why the Obama administration initially described the attack at Benghazi as a protest gone awry, leading to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith and CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Five days after attack, the administration sent Rice onto the Sunday news shows to describe what precipitated the assault. She relied on initial intelligence talking points that subsequently proved incorrect.
Deputy CIA Director Mark Morell told the House committee on Thursday that Rice was provided with an unclassified version of events at the American mission, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a committee member.
The assessment concluded that a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video had evolved into an attack on the American consulate, a description that Rice presented in the television interviews.
Patraeus hoped that by testifying he would put an end to some of the wilder rumors following his resignation over reveal of his affair with Paula Broadwell.
‘He did not like the conspiracies going around that somehow he had something to hide on Benghazi,’ said retired Colonel Peter Mansoor, who served as Petraeus’ executive officer in Iraq.
‘I think his offer to testify crossed with the Congress’ request to him to testify. But anyway he looks forward to that.’
HOW TALKING POINTS GET MADE – AND WATERED DOWN
David Petraeus, former CIA director, has testified on Capitol Hill that ‘talking points’ on Benghazi initially prepared by the CIA were subsequently altered before being given to Ambassador Susan Rice.
Far from expressing spontaneous or even personal opinions, Obama administration officials appearing on Sunday talk shows, as Rice did in the aftermath of the September 11th Benghazi attack, are given a virtual script beforehand.
These are usually distributed on Saturday night, when a conference call or meeting is held to go over key points.
As President Obama put in this week, Rice ‘made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her’.
When foreign policy is involved, these ‘talking points’ are coordinated by the National Security Council after inputs from agencies throughout the U.S. government.
Representative Peter King of the House Intelligence Committee spoke on Friday of an ‘interagency process’ that Petraeus had said had changed the initial CIA assessment of the events in Benghazi.
‘He said that the talking points that were drafted [by the CIA] were specific about an al-Qaeda affiliate…after they went through that process, whatever that process is, which they seem unclear about, that was taken out.’
King added that he had ‘got the impression about seven, eight, nine different agencies’ had been involved in drafting the talking points.
There are 16 different agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. In addition, it is overseen by the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI), which almost certainly would have had an input.
In the case of Benghazi, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI would almost certainly have been involved in drafting the talking points.
The State Department would also have had a key role, perhaps drawing on work from its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), one of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
As well as the DIA input, the Pentagon and perhaps the U.S. Special Operations Command would have been consulted.
Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat, said that Petraeus had disputed Republican suggestions that politics were involved in altering the talking points.
‘There was an inter-agency process to draft it, not a political process. They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or sources or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.’
‘The general was adamant there was no politicisation of the process, no White House interference or political agenda.
-BY TOBY HARNDEN
Petraeus forced to sneak in to Capitol hearing as media circus descends on Washington
With dozens of journalists waiting for a glimpse of the retired four-star general, and a chance to ask about his affair with writer Paula Broadwell, David Petraeus resorted to cloak-and-dagger techniques to sneak into the hearing on the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi undetected.
Petraeus stole into the House Intelligence Committee hearing through a network of underground hallways leading to a secure room, his entrance hidden from the cameras.
CIA directors usually walk through the building’s front door.
Petraeus is under investigation by the agency for possible wrongdoing though for the day at least that was not the subject of his appearance.
Lawmakers said they were looking forward to hearing Petraeus’ thoughts on the attacks.
‘Director Petraeus went to Tripoli and interviewed many of the people involved,’ said head of the Senate committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
‘Id like to get a sense of why it took as long as it did to get a more accurate assessment of what took place in Benghazi,’ said California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.
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