- State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objected to the CIA’s summary, which concluded that terrorists killed four Americans
- Attack came in the weeks before the 2012 election, as President Obama was campaigning on the strength of having defeated al Qaeda
- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has denied that the administration had a substantial hand in changing the official story
- ABC News reports that the administration’s line was edited 12 times
PUBLISHED: 12:04 EST, 10 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:37 EST, 10 May 2013
The Obama administration rewrote the CIA’s official story about the Dept. 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, judging from 12 different versions of a summary that emerged Friday.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has claimed that the intelligence community was solely responsible for drafting and revising the document – known now as the Benghazi ‘talking points – and that editing by political appointees in the administration was limited to changing no more than two words.
But ABC News reported that the State Department had direct influence on the edits, and specifically requested the removal of references to the al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group Ansar al-Sharia, and the deletion of references to CIA warnings in the months before the attack that terror attacks in the eastern Libyan city were expected.
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In one email leaked to ABC, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised a red flag about the CIA-written portion which warned that ‘The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya.’
‘Since April,’ the CIA assessment continued, ‘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.’
Nuland emailed White House and intelligence officials, warning that the sentences ‘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?’
The words in question did not appear in the final version that was distributed to members of Congress.
In subsequent emails, the CIA stuck to its guns, retaining language that said, ‘we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack,’ naming Ansar al-Sharia. The draft went on to specifically name the al Qaeda-affiliated group named Ansar al-Sharia.
After Nuland objected again, saying that terrorist groups should not be named because the administration did not ‘want to prejudice the investigation,’ a member of the National Security Council staff noted that ‘The FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple minor suggestions.’
But Nuland wrote that ‘my building’ – likely referring to the State Department’s top leadership – was still unhappy.
Ultimately, according to the emails ABC News unearthed, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes conceded that the State Department’s concerns should be considered.
Carney has briefed the press and insisted that ‘the CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points.’
‘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.’
Any input the White House did have likely came at a meeting of White House deputies four days after the attack. ‘The significant edits – deleting references to al Qaeda and the CIA’s warnings – came [that] White House meeting,’ ABC News reported on its blog.
On the day following that meeting, UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five television talk shows and kept to the resulting line that a spontaneous protest – not a terror attack – was behind the destruction of the consulate and the loss of life.
Nuland, ABC News adds, was not at the deputies’ meeting and did not prepare Rice for her interviews.
‘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,’ Rhodes emailed the group reviewing the talking points. ‘We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.’
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become the focus of post-Benghazi political wrangling, with Republicans on Capitol Hill accusing her of stonewalling a congressional investigation and adding accusations of an administration cover-up.
Clinton is likely to run for president in 2016, Democratic political analysts predict, making the performance of her agency a political football.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.
But Clinton’s tenure at State will continue to be a source of controversy. A career diplomat who was second-in-command in Libya on the night of the Benghazi attack testified before Congress on Wednesday that a commando team was turned back from flying from Tripoli to Benghazi after the State Department intervened.
Gregory Hicks quoted an Army colonel telling him over the phone that ‘this is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.’
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