Report: The CIA Edited Susan Rice’s Talking Points On Benghazi Attack

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell

A new report in the Wall Street Journal makes clear that it was the CIA, not the White House, who ultimately removed references to al Qaeda from a controversial set of talking points on the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Congressional Republicans and conservative commentators alike have spent weeks wondering just who edited the now infamous talking points, accusing officials across the Obama administration of lying to cover-up the truth about Benghazi. Instead, what they have labeled a political decision to play down the role of al Qaeda by the Obama administration was actually a much more complicated process:

The officials said the first draft of the talking points had a reference to al Qaeda but it was removed by the Central Intelligence Agency, to protect sources and protect investigations, before the talking points were shared with the White House. No evidence has so far emerged that the White House interfered to tone down the public intelligence assessment, despite the attention the charge has received.

Edits and revisions of estimates continued on even as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was preparing to make her appearances on several Sunday morning news shows to discuss them on Sept. 16:

On Sept. 15, Michael Morell, then CIA deputy director and now acting director, spoke with the CIA station chief in Tripoli, who expressed concern that the agency’s reporting was off the mark. The station chief said there was no protest ongoing at the time of the attack, and he didn’t think the attack was spontaneous. Mr. Morell asked the chief to summarize his views in an email so the analysts at Langley could evaluate his take along with more than a dozen other internal intelligence reports, Mr. Morell later told lawmakers.

Officials placed the talking points that day in a binder that was hand-delivered to Ms. Rice at around 8 p.m. at her home in Washington, where she was making last-minute preparations before making the rounds of the news shows the following morning.

In addition, despite repeated right-wing insistence that the Obama administration mislead the public about the role an anti-Islam video played in the launch of the attack, the new story makes clear that members of the intelligence community “still believe the attack was inspired in part by the earlier protest in Cairo over the video.”

This new reporting solidifies previous stories that tanked Republican theories of official cover-up. By firmly pointing to the CIA, the reports also clarify the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s statement on Nov. 19 that the “intelligence community” edited the talking points, not the White House and that the CIA had approved of the changes.