Pete Souza/The White House/Polaris

Pete Souza/The White House/Polaris

Recent reporting has centered on CIA deputy director Mike Morell as a key player in critical and misleading changes made to the Obama Administration’s Benghazi talking points. The CIA talking points were cited by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five different national Sunday talk shows on September 16, five days after the attack. Administration officials from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down cited them. The initial draft of the talking points was produced by the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis on September 14 at 11:15 a.m. A demonstration was mentioned, but so was al-Qaeda and Ansar-al-Sharia involvement. It referred to the CIA’s “numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya.” National Security Council (NSC) staff edited the talking points on the 14th. But it was the State Department that had the most reservations. Hillary Clinton’s spokeswoman (and now Assistant Secretary of State for Europe) Victoria Nuland did not like the CIA’s draft—nor did her “building leadership,” as she said in an e-mail on September 14 at 9:24 p.m. She wrote to the NSC staff:

Why do we want Hill to start fingering Ansar Al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have the investigation results…and the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that?… Concerned.

The next morning, September 15, at 9.45 a.m., Morell produced what became essentially the final version of the talking points (Senate report, p. 51), removing references to known terrorist groups and identifying a non-existing demonstration as the cause. Outrageously, the official talking points contradicted the known facts. According to the recent report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (p. 33), on September 15, the CIA’s Chief of Station in Tripoli reported in an e-mail that the Benghazi attacks were “not an escalation of protests.” Morrell completely ignored it. Below are the finalized talking points:

  • “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
  • “The assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.”
  • “The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with the Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.”

The text was not only misleading but so pathetic that then-CIA director David Petraeus commented, “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this.” However, it was the State Department and the White House that were calling to shots, and Mike Morell played along.