More Scandals (Benghazi Edition)
Remember when we were told by all and sundry that Benghazi was a nothing-to-see-here-move-along type of scandal? Yeah, that was funny:
Four days after the 9/11 anniversary attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. intelligence community knew very little about who did it, how it happened, and whether it was planned or not, according to 100 pages of internal emails released Wednesday afternoon by the White House.
Those emails provide the clearest record to date of the genesis of government-wide talking points for senior Obama administration officials that asserted that the Benghazi attacks stemmed from a demonstration that never occurred.
House Republicans have been calling for weeks for the White House to release the emails, claiming in a report issued last month from Republican leadership that the emails show the edits to the talking points were not done to protect classified information as the White House initially claimed.
The talking points were first generated by the CIA for a briefing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Nonetheless, the emails themselves raise more questions than they answer. For example, there is extensive discussion on the evening of September 14 about whether the talking points should mention Ansar al-Sharia, a jihadist militia the original CIA draft stated was a likely participant in the attacks. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman at the time, asked whether or not mentioning the group would prejudice the investigation, and the FBI in later emails did not object. Still, the final version excised the reference to Ansar al-Sharia as well as a reference to Facebook posts the group had created suggesting a link to the attacks.
Nor do the emails provide a record of the secure video teleconference from September 15 in which the decisions were ultimately made on what the final version of the talking points would look like. Senior government officials such as the State Department’s director for policy planning, Jake Sullivan, participated in the teleconference.
(Emphasis mine.) See also this:
Then CIA-Director David Petraeus objected to the final talking points the Obama administration used after the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, because he wanted to see more details revealed to the public, according to emails released Wednesday by the White House.
Under pressure in the investigation that continues eight months after the attacks, the White House on Wednesday released 99 pages of emails and a single page of hand-written notes made by Petraeus’ deputy, Mike Morell, after a meeting at the White House on Saturday, Sept. 15. On that page, Morell scratched out from the CIA’s early drafts of talking points mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya, Islamic extremists and a warning to the Cairo embassy on the eve of the attacks of calls for a demonstration and break-in by jihadists.
Petraeus apparently was displeased by the removal of so much of the material his analysts initially had proposed for release. The talking points were sent to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to prepare her for an appearance on news shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, and also to members of the House Intelligence Committee.
“No mention of the cable to Cairo, either?” Petraeus wrote after receiving Morell’s edited version, developed after an intense back-and-forth among Obama administration officials. “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then.”
I think that it is safe to say that the notion that the talking points were produced primarily by the CIA has been shredded. Stephen Hayes sums up:
The White House on Wednesday released 94 pages of emails between top administration and intelligence officials who helped shape the talking points about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that the CIA would provide to policymakers in both the legislative and executive branches.
The documents, first reported by THE WEEKLY STANDARD in articles here and here, directly contradict claims by White House press secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the revisions of those talking points were driven by the intelligence community and show heavy input from top Obama administration officials, particularly those at the State Department.
The emails provide further detail about the rewriting of the talking points during a 24-hour period from midday September 14 to midday September 15. As THE WEEKLY STANDARD previously reported, a briefing from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shows that the big changes came in three waves – internally at the CIA, after email feedback from top administration officials, and during or after a meeting of high-ranking intelligence and national security officials the following morning.
The initial CIA changes softened some of the language about the participants in the Benghazi assault – from “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda” to “Islamic extremists.” But CIA officials also added bullet points about the possible participation of Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, and previous warnings about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. Those additions came out after the talking points were sent to “the interagency,” where the CIA’s final draft was further stripped down to little more than boilerplate. The half dozen references to terrorists – both in Benghazi and more generally – all but disappeared. Gone were references to al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia, jihadists, Islamic extremists, etc. The only remaining mention was a note that “extremists” had participated in the attack.
As striking as what appears in the email traffic is what does not. There is no mention of the YouTube video that would become a central part of the administration’s explanation of the attacks to the American people until a brief mention in the subject line of emails coming out of an important meeting where further revisions were made.
Read the whole thing. Incidentally, the best way to peruse the e-mails is through this site.